The state of Virginia will open an international trade office in Canada this year to further promote exports of agriculture and forestry products, which hit an all-time high last year, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore recently reiterated.
During remarks May 9 at the Virginia Maritime Association's annual banquet in Norfolk, Haymore noted that Gov. Bob McDonnell is the first governor in modern Virginia history to include agriculture and forestry in his overall economic agenda.
When the governor took office in 2010 the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had one trade office, in Hong Kong, dedicated to facilitating international agriculture and forestry sales. Since then, Virginia has opened eight similar trade offices in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, India; Shanghai; London; St. Petersburg; Mexico City; and San Jose, Costa Rica.
Virginia is the second state besides North Carolina to have a dedicated agriculture trade office in China.
A March 7 news release from Gov. McDonnell's office said that Virginia would establish an agriculture trade office in Canada. After the Norfolk event, Haymore said officials have yet to determine where it will be located.
Agriculture and forestry represent the two largest industries in Virginia.
Agricultural exports from Virginia reached a record $2.61 billion in 2012, up 12 percent from the previous high in 2011. Agricultural exports, including forestry products, have grown in value by about 17 percent since 2010, according to state figures.
Top export products include soybeans, soybean meal, lumber, logs, wood products, tobacco, soybean oil, grains such as wheat and barley, pork, animal feed, processed foods and beverages, wine, animal fats and oils, wood pellets, cotton, seafood, and raw peanuts.
China became the top export destination for Virginia agricultural products in 2012 with $638 million in orders, up from $304 million in 2011. In 2009, China purchased $169 million worth of goods exported through Virginia ports. Soybeans and grain are the primary commodities shipped to China.
Virginia is pushing hard to reach $1 billion in agriculture sales to China this year, Haymore said in a brief interview.
Canada is Virginia's second largest export customer. Last year it imported $205 million worth of commodities from Virginia. Morocco, which was the largest export market for Virginia in 2011, is the third largest customer with $139 million in goods purchased.
Wood pellets were the fastest growing export commodity in Virginia last year, rising more than 800 percent from about $4 million to $35 million, largely driven by new sales to the European Union, according to the governor's office.
The export value of soybeans more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, from $327 million to $734 million, due in large measure to the administration's efforts to help companies find new customers overseas.
Virginia's agriculture strategic plan focuses on high-growth markets such as China, India, Latin America and Europe, which despite its recession presents opportunities for agriculture and forestry products. State officials say that a relatively small investment in agriculture trade offices and international marketing efforts -- about $2 million since 2010 -- has paved the way for $500 million in new deals between the state's agribusinesses and foreign buyers. Gov. McDonnell has led trade missions to Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Israel, China, and India.
Haymore, who is on a trade mission in the United Kingdom this week, said the majority of exports are produced in Virginia, but acknowledged that the statistics include commodities from other states that are shipped from the Port of Virginia and the state's airports. - Eric Kulisch