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Trade deals begin with relationships

Markham does advance work

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Jesse Ventura isn't the only person who makes trade trips on behalf of Minnesota.

Kurt Markham, MDA agricultural marketing services director, often travels to countries to build upon relationships started by trade missions.

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Markham just returned from a trip to China, where he met with government officials in Beijing, toured the country and visited two ports.

An official from the central government's Ministry of Agriculture escorted him around the country where he observed farms and talked to village and county managers. He envisions the country as an importer of Minnesota soybeans and wheat.

"About all I saw was corn and rice," he said.

Markham invited people from China to come to Minnesota -- a reverse trade mission -- and expects Hugoson will do the same. The agriculture department takes global trade delegations to tourist sites, such as the Mall of America, but also to spots specific to agriculture. Last week, a group from Turkey was in town to visit with agricultural officials and a Taiwanese delegation visited the state last month to discuss wheat shipments.

These reverse trade missions help strengthen relationships that will perhaps lead to sales of Minnesota agriculture commodities, Markham said.

The agriculture department will follow what it has termed the "Mexico Model" in China.

First, the governor opens the door. Then, a sincere interest is created with the country. Finally, follow-up contacts are made to try to execute deals on leads that were uncovered.

It's important for Minnesotans to travel to other countries, such as China and Mexico, because the state is competing against other exporters for the same market, said agriculture commissioner Gene Hugoson. Personal contacts make a difference, especially for small- and mid-size operations.

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Markham's trips overseas are partially funded by the state of Minnesota and by commodity groups. Hugoson's trip with Gov. Ventura is funded by the state of Minnesota, but private citizens accompanying the governor pay their own way.

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