CROOKSTON, Minn. — The voices of farmers in northwestern Minnesota were heard during Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s trade mission to the United Kingdom and Finland last week.
“It was definitely an honor,” said Tim Dufault of Crookston, who was one of those accompanying Walz on the trip. Dufault is a board member of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotional Council. “It was way different than a regular farm meeting. I felt like I was a part of something here, moving Minnesota ahead.”
Walz led the European trade mission Nov. 13-19. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the goals of the mission were to increase state exports, promote the state as a destination for foreign investment, develop business opportunities and strengthen existing ties in the countries.
According to a media release from the governor’s office, the trade mission’s goals were met.
“We are returning home from a productive trade mission where we shared our message with our partners in Europe: Minnesota is an outstanding place to do business and increase trade,” Walz said in the release.
Walz brought dozens of representatives, such as Dufault, from businesses and organizations around the state in the areas of medical technology, food and agriculture, environmental technology and education. He was also joined by first lady Gwen Walz, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.
“This mission provided Minnesota’s leading food and agriculture companies the opportunity to showcase our high-quality exports and why they’re a good investment,” Petersen said in the media release. “We look forward to continuing to strengthen our trade relationships with the U.K. and Finland.”
One of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotional Council’s goals is to promote the trade of wheat, and when the board was presented with the opportunity for a member to accompany the governor on a trade mission, it applied to send a member on the trip.
Dufault said that Brexit has created new trade opportunities for the U.S. and U.K., especially in agriculture. The U.K. grows wheat, but according to Dufault it tends to be feed quality wheat, rather than milling quality wheat. Most of the county’s mill wheat is imported. Before Brexit, the U.K. primarily imported wheat from countries in the European Union, as well as Canada. Now that the country has left the EU, there are opportunities to expand trade outside of EU countries.
In Finland, the wheat market is harder to crack, Dufault said, but the other groups on the trip, especially environmental technology, were able to have productive conversations in the country.
The trip consisted of a series of meetings with government officials and stops at businesses and organizations in the U.K and Finland. Dufault said the agriculture group met with the state officials from offices like the Department for Transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and visited places like grocery stores in the countries to observe similarities and differences.
One of the meetings was with Minister for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt, who helps oversee trade policies in the U.K. Dufault says the meeting was a valuable opportunity to talk about issues like tariffs and other trade barriers with someone who could help change the policies.
“It’s always good for policy makers to hear from the actual person that’s affected. They had a room full of ag people that are affected by some of these trade problems and I think it did good,” Dufault said.
While Dufault did not sign any contracts to sell wheat while on the trade mission, he saw representatives on the trip making progress. He said one of the business owners on the trip was able to find a distributor for his business, and that representatives from universities were pleased with progress made towards scholarship and exchange programs during the trip. Dufault said Petersen, who has been on multiple trade missions with the governor, reassured him that the trip would help progress for trade with the U.K. and Finland.
“You don’t always know if you’re moving the needle, but eventually some good things will come and that is why governors continue to do this over the years,” Dufault said.