Exploring export potential

Two teams of Iowa Pork Producers Association leaders and staff returned recently from separate meat missions to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Cuba.

IPPA President Al Wulfekuhle of Quasqueton, President-elect Curtis Meier of Clarinda, Vice President of Resources Trent Thiele of Elma and IPPA CEO Pat McGonegle made the week-long trip to the Dominican and Costa Rica. Iowa Economic Development Authority and U.S. Meat Export Federation officials also participated.

Despite some trade obstacles, exports to the two countries have increased steadily the past five years, thanks to the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Pork tariffs will be completely phased out by 2020.

"As tariffs continue to decrease, U.S. pork will be priced even more competitively," Wulfekuhle said. "Environmental issues, lack of farmable land and high feed costs will make it very difficult for local producers to grow. Increasing domestic pork consumption, a growing tourism industry and elimination of tariffs create an excellent opportunity for U.S. and Iowa pork."

IPPA Vice President of Producer Services and Northeast Region Director Ken Ries of Ryan, Northwest Region Director Marv Rietema of Sioux Center, National Pork Producers Council immediate past president and current IPPA Board member Dr. Howard Hill of Cambridge and IPPA Producer Outreach and Federal Policy Director Steph Carlson went on the five-day trip to Cuba.

The mission was primarily exploratory. The IPPA delegation met with U.S. and Cuban government officials, associations and university professors. The group toured farms, agriculture facilities and other sites to learn about Cuba's changing economy and opportunities.

While the U.S. and Cuba are in the process of resuming diplomatic relations, trade embargoes remain and talk in Havana was that it could be two to five years before trade can resume, Hill said.

"Cuba has to import 60 percent of its food because it can't supply all of its needs and pork was one of the main proteins we saw and ate while we were there," Hill said. "With eleven million people in Cuba, there is a bright future for pork, but it won't happen overnight."