Several state government leaders and the captains of Iowa’s key industries are in South Korea, working to strengthen partnerships and boost Iowa exports. In a conference call with Iowa reporters this morning, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says there are about 40 people in the Iowa delegation in Seoul and she says they’re zipping along with a very busy schedule of meetings and seminars.
“This morning, we started our day bright and early with an embassy breakfast briefing,” Reynolds says. “We were updated from the ministers of political, economic, commercial and agriculture. After that, we left the hotel and went to meet with Ambassador Kathleen Stevens and we had the opportunity to discuss with her the free trade agreement.”
The lieutenant governor says the delegation broke into two groups, to cover more ground, hosting dueling luncheons. “The luncheon that I hosted was the meat industry luncheon and we had about 20-to-25 participants,” Reynolds says. “It really was an opportunity for us, along with the Iowa Beef Association and the Iowa Pork Association, to thank the customers that are located here in South Korea and to have a dialogue about how we can increase trade and to build relationships.”
Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, led the other half of the Iowa delegation. “I took a group to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to meet with Minister Kim over there,” Northey says. “A good discussion, a good back and forth, both questions that they had for our producers but a lot of discussion about what’s going on in the world of agriculture and food in South Korea.”
Northey says much of their talks focused on the pending free trade agreement between our two nations. “We talked as well about some recent issues they’ve had in South Korea that impact Iowa producers,” Northey says. “That includes foot and mouth disease, that certainly every livestock producer in the world fears. We talked about the lessons they learned through all that.” He says the outbreak was so widespread, about one-third of the nation’s entire hog herd of ten-million head had to be destroyed.
To Iowa’s benefit, South Korea boosted its importing of pork from the U.S. as a result. Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, is also on the trip and calls the agenda “intense.” Durham says she and her staff are busy pitched all of the advantages Iowa boasts.
“Certainly, elevating international trade and investment is absolutely the right strategy for Iowa and the nation,” Durham says. “It’s an essential component in creating and sustaining jobs. In addition, I was involved directly in all of the trade discussions that were occurring today. As you know, the governor and lieutenant governor have called for an increasing of trade by 20% and the president has also called for double the trade.”
The Iowa delegation is hosting seminars about the benefits of investing in Iowa. Durham says she and her staff are devoting their time to wooing South Korean companies to build in Iowa. They’ve met with three companies, so far. “One is, I’m pleased to say, we’re a finalist in Iowa,” Durham says. “Certainly, the efforts that we made to call on them at their corporate headquarters went over so well, very well received, and we just went over some additional questions they have regarding the site and some incentives.”
Meetings with the other companies were more introductory, she says. The Iowa delegates include officials from the beef, pork, corn and soybean industries, a few state legislators as well as several other business leaders and cultural officials. The group will leave South Korea on Thursday to launch into a similar series of meetings in China. They’ll return to Iowa on June 17th.