As America works to emerge from its deep economic downturn, it is increasingly clear U.S.-based businesses cannot focus solely on markets at home. To succeed and grow, we must build our presence in the
interconnected global economy.
The simple fact is commerce on a global scale is good for business and the economy - and it creates jobs. One of the most cost-effective ways to do that is through U.S. international affairs programs where government and business come together to create not only goodwill but opportunities for sustaining and growing U.S. jobs and potential markets.
Representing about 1 percent of our federal budget, this funding promotes stability and economic growth around the world through development and diplomatic operations. It helps to build the kind of peaceful, more prosperous societies that desire - and can afford - American products and services.
Already, more than one in five American jobs depend on trade and exports, with the fastest-growing markets in the developing world. In fact, about 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders, meaning we can’t afford not to be engaged overseas.
Although we represent two large companies, more than 97 percent of U.S. companies that export products are small-to-medium-sized enterprises. This means that for thousands of companies across America, exports are a critical component of the business strategy. These businesses are able to participate in the global marketplace, in part, because of the international affairs work that helps to create and develop new markets.
Earlier this year, in an open letter to Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce made the point saying, “The international affairs budget is critical to U.S. economic engagement with the world, especially at a time when there is a wide recognition of the need to boost U.S. exports to create American jobs.”
In our own companies, we’ve seen firsthand how international development supports opportunity for American businesses.
For example, for more than a decade, the U.S. Agency for International Development has partnered with Land O’Lakes’ to build the productivity and profitability of dairy operations in East Africa. Together, we’ve improved animal genetics, nutrition and care, as well as milk-handling and marketing, while helping to establish literally thousands of sustainable agri-businesses.
One innovative partnership involving Land O’Lakes and World Wide Sires, a California-based market leader in bovine genetics, addressed low animal productivity in Africa by building local private-sector capacity to deliver commercial breeding services. This benefited African farmers as well as World Wide Sires, which saw marked commercial growth in countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Development efforts like this one have not only enhanced local economies and the quality of life, they are significantly increasing the value of U.S. exports to the region.
In Ivory Coast, Cargill has been training farmers to support the production and certification of sustainable cocoa. The result has not only been more environmentally sound practices but a 30 percent reduction in pests, quality improvements in the bean and its fermentation, and a nearly 50 percent improvement in yields. As a result, this training program is now being shared in Cameroon and other places. This benefits not only the farmers in Africa, but food producers and their workers in the United States and it promotes goodwill in a part of the world that can be a market for more American goods in the future.
As Congress wrestles with federal budget deficits, it is important that it doesn’t give short shrift to those items that at first glance seem distant and international. When we support the international affairs budget, we’re promoting peace and prosperity in the developing world, and we are also enabling the development of new markets and strengthening America’s stature - both of which support U.S. jobs. That’s an exceptional return on investment. It’s what led Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to say, “Looking at these issues as a businessman, I believe that investing in the world’s poorest people is the smartest way our government spends money.”
We agree - and we support continuing this investment, which benefits the developing world and America.
Chris Policinski is president and chief executive officer of Land O’Lakes, Inc., and chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Business Advisory Council. Greg Page is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Cargill, Inc.