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U.s. infrastructure lags, trade may follow

By Ty Higgins, oHio Ag neT Last month a group of Ohioans trav-

eled to Panama for the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) annual meeting. Panama is becoming a very strategic location for all American exports, not only because of the recently signed Free

Trade Agreement, but also because of the expanding Panama Canal. Tadd Nicholson, Interim CEO of the

Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA), was a part of the Buckeye delegation in Panama. He and his colleagues had the opportunity to

see first-hand, via boat ride, the progress being made with the Panama Canal expansion. “Picture a boat that has 4,000 con-

tainers on it about the size of a semi- trailer,” Nicholson said describing the current vessels being used through the


canal. “The new ships that will be mov- ing freight around the world will hold three times that amount. After seeing the size of the vessels being used today, it is hard to imagine vessels of the mag- nitude to carry 12,000 containers.” Therein lies the reason for the need to

expand Panama’s canal in the first place — creating more export opportunities, specifically to the Asian markets. If the United States is able to change the price of shipping by putting three times that amount of freight on one vessel, it really could change the entire market of for- eign countries purchasing grain from the United States. Today, 15% of U.S. corn is exported, but there is also a real- ization that 95% of the world’s popula- tion is outside of the United States. “That population in China and India

and other locations around the world has a growing middle class,” Nicholson said. “That growing middle class cre- ates different demands for grain and meat as that society will want to improve their diet.” Nicholson took notes of many

things during his trek though Panama, including his perception of the relation- ship between that country and the United States. “The Panama Canal was controlled






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by the United States until 2000, and then Panama took over complete control and then its people voted to make the neces- sary investments to expand it to help grow the economy,” Nicholson said. “Every country and every military in the world depends on the canal so it is a very safe place. Nobody wants anything bad to happen to Panama.” The one thing that stuck out to

Nicholson throughout the trip was the effort being made by Panama to move its infrastructure into the 21st Century. Knowing that other countries competing with the United States are doing the same with their infrastructures has Nicholson a bit concerned. “It really brings home the message

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that the United States needs to get itself into gear or we’re going to be left behind in the infrastructure game,” Nicholson said. “What really struck me is that the world’s shipping is changing and growing and the United States is not in good enough shape to take advantage of these changes. But other countries like China, Japan and Brazil are. It really rejuvenates us as corn and wheat growers to redouble our efforts to get the United States active again in expanding our infrastructure so the U.S. can truly take advantage of the world market.” Nicholson emphasized that the U.S.

Grains Council is working on a number of different strategies to improve the United States’ ability to export grain, specifically in the realm of foreign poli- cy. When other countries have tariffs, politically driven biotechnology bans or other trade hurdles, the USGC is able to break through some of those barriers for the United States to make trade, and a stronger agricultural economy, possible.

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