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ATPC to shine light on new administrations

With President Obama coming into a second term, a new administration taking over in Mexico and immigration reform finally on the federal table, the third annual America Trades Produce Conference, scheduled for March 6-8 in McAllen, TX, could not come at a better time.

The annual conference is a collaboration between the Texas International Produce Association in Mission, TX, and the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, AZ.America-Trades-2013-009New Texas International Produce Association President Bret Erickson (second from right) checked in with Adam Maloney, Dan Garcia and Mike McKittrick of international packaging provider BK Well's Atlanta, GA, office as they were setting up their booth March 6 for the America Trades Conference and Expo, which opens in McAllen, TX.(Photo by Chip Carter)

The event focuses on bringing together all sectors of the produce supply chain, with a special emphasis on U.S.-Mexico relations.

“We have a tremendously exciting lineup of speakers and topics and we’ve generated some real interest in the produce expo, which is new this year,” said TIPA President Bret Erickson. “As we hit the home stretch, it looks like we’re on pace for another successful conference.”

FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said, “Once again we will bring together some of the top officials who matter to bilateral U.S.-Mexico trade in an environment where industry can interact with these officials.”

New rules from the Food & Drug Administration will provide much of the focus, as will immigration reform and the possibility of expanded cooperation as new governmental era dawns in the United States and Mexico.

“With the Pena Nieto administration taking over the reins in Mexico, and potentially some new top leadership within the Obama administration, we will have a session that gives a preview of how the industry can expect the governments to interact,” said Mr. Jungmeyer. “With immigration and various trade issues in the forefront, it is crucial that our governments work together.”

Added Mr. Erickson, “There are some big-issue items on the agenda. A big piece of it is just the overarching issue of two administrations that have just come in, Obama into a second term and the Pena Nieto administration in Mexico, and how those administrations will work together and what the future holds for us in terms of how they’re going to improve or change trade relations between the United States and Mexico.”

With high-level government and industry representatives under one roof for three days, the conference is a rare opportunity for dialogue and information exchange. This year it will also be an opportunity to conduct business, with a trade exposition added to the itinerary.

“ATPC has been very content-oriented and will continue to be so,” Mr. Erickson said. “There’s a lot of good information that’s going to be shared — I don’t think there’s any other conference where you have such an international component of grower-shippers mingling with people from government and agencies on both sides of the border. The focus of this event is still education and getting a dialogue going to talk about what’s happening in the industry, but we’ve added the expo component and that has definitely generated some interest. We’re only set up to do 50 booths, we didn’t want to overextend ourselves. Some folks say they really love the fact that this is an educational event but other folks want networking opportunities and we’re going to provide those.”

The conference is held in the home states of its co-sponsors in alternating years. That means Texas gets a chance to put its best foot forward this year.

“We’re on the cutting edge and we want to show that off,” said Mr. Erickson. “We have something like a $6 billion industry bringing produce into Texas and that means a lot of jobs and is a big economic impact. There’s a lot of interest in what the administrations are doing to improve the flow of trade between the two countries. We’re trying to bring attention to the fact that our ports of entry are already struggling to handle the flow of goods coming across from Mexico. What are we going to do going forward to help fix that and how can we bring attention to the federal government that we need additional resources here to move the flow of goods? We understand budget issues and economic problems but by adding investment to these bridges and increasing their ability to move trade you’re creating more jobs and more money here.”

Traffic at ports of entry in Texas and Arizona is a never-ending snarl that can tie up fresh produce shipments for hours or even days. While facilities are close to adequate for the job at hand, staffing is woefully inadequate, rendering some entry points useless.

Roughly one-third of the fruits and two-thirds of the vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in Mexico, and most of that enters the United States via Texas and Arizona. Grower-shippers on both sides of the border continue to partner to increase production and distribution of Mexican product and combined import-export picture grows daily.

Meanwhile, scientists at Texas A&M University have said that farmers will need to produce as much food over the next 50 years as they have cumulatively to date to feed an ever-expanding population.

“That’s a sobering statistic,” said Mr. Erickson. “There’s something to be said for securing your food supply domestically, but from a big-picture view we’re feeding the world. We’re going to hit 9 billion people in the next 30 to 40 years, and to feed that many people you’re going to do that through creating new areas for farming and improving technology. Our industry is experiencing tremendous growth and there are certainly some growing pains that come with that. The 2013 ATPC and expo is an event that will stimulate the type of thinking and dialogue necessary to ensure that we can address industry issues and continue to be successful.”