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County FB talks free trade with EU agriculture counselor in Cleveland
by Amy Beth Graves
Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau President Tom Kaskey couldn’t figure out why he was asked to attend a talk about free trade in Cleveland until the speech ended. The speaker, a European Union trade negotiator, stepped from the podium and asked for a private conversation with county and state Farm Bureau members.
“Little did I know that meeting with us was the most important issue on his mind,” said Kaskey, who met with Giulio Menato, who is part of the EU trade delegation to the United States and agriculture counselor.
“We were the only group that he wanted to sit down with, and we were in a room of 150-200 heavy hitters, including the national director of the Red Cross and a chemical company owner who sells around the world,” Kaskey said.
The conference room was noisy and crowded but the message was clear -- Ohio agriculture plays a part in free trade talks between the EU and United States.
“Menato is a very intelligent man and knew Farm Bureau is one of the most successful lobbyists for large and small farms. Ohio is in the top 10 in ag producers, and he knows Ohio is very political and puts the president in office,” said Donita Anderson, Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau’s public policy action leader, who met with Menato along with Yvonne Lesicko, OFBF’s senior director of state and national policy.
Menato’s message was simple and to the point. The United States needs to send more products to the European Union. That’s fine but the EU needs to play fair in trade negotiations, Lesicko countered. For example, she pointed out that the EU wants to unfairly bar U.S. producers from using European names such as Parmesan, feta and Gouda. Doing so would hurt Ohio’s $1 billion dairy industry, and some cheese producers emigrated from Europe with their recipes, Anderson told Menato.
“He is from Italy and was very passionate that the names of cheese were stolen or misrepresented,” Anderson said. “We talked about (geographical indications) and pointed out that if a cheese is from Italy that it says that and the same for the United States. And that many producers have been making cheese for generations, and an Ohio Cheese Guild was recently started.”
Menato said Brazil does more trade with the EU than the United States but Anderson was quick to point out that some Ohio farmers have set up operations in Brazil where free trade doesn’t have as many restrictions as those in the United States.
“He was trying to say Brazil was better than us and I was able to say ‘Hey, those are Americans.’ He didn’t know Ohio farmers were buying land down there,” said Anderson, executive director of the North Union Farmers Market.
The conversation was civil, informative and passionate, Anderson said.
“We both came along with the impression that we look after agriculture, and I think he got the impression that we’re fair,” she said. “He knows we’re passionate about what we do and he’s equally passionate.”
Kaskey, who had returned a month earlier from OFBF’s county presidents’ trip to Washington, D.C., was thrilled to be a part of the free trade discussion and to see every level of Farm Bureau at work, from the grassroots up.
“The county presidents’ trip was a valuable tool because I got to hear diverse opinions and how to have an open discussion and dialogue,” said Kaskey, who runs a family produce farm. “It put me in a better mindset to better understand Menato’s speech.”
The experience made Kaskey realize Farm Bureau’s influence on everything from local zoning issues to international trade matters and that Farm Bureau has the resources to keep members up-to-date with key issues.
“It made me sit up and take notice. As county president, you usually deal with county issues like fencing and the city not wanting chickens,” he said. “This made me realize that there is much more to it. It opened my eyes that we deal with issues not only at the local level.”
Read more about how Farm Bureau is working to protect Ohio cheese producers.
Amy Beth Graves is a communications specialist for Ohio Farm Bureau.