Cargill c.e.o.: U.S. needs 'smart, inclusive policies on trade and immigration'

by Eric Schroeder
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Cargill headquarters
Cargill is striving to drive inclusive economic growth.

MINNEAPOLIS — The United States needs “smart, inclusive policies on trade and immigration,” said a top executive at one of the nation’s largest agribusinesses.

In a Feb. 3 blog posting on The Huffington Post’s web site, David MacLennan, chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill, said the Minneapolis-based company “absolutely” relies on trade as part of its goal to improve global food security and nutrition.

David MacLennan
David MacLennan, chairman and c.e.o. of Cargill

“We are a U.S.-based company, but we know that 96% of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S.,” Mr. MacLennan wrote. “We can’t afford to wall ourselves off from these markets, but that is the emerging trend.”

Citing data from the World Trade Organization, Mr. MacLennan said the number of non-tariff trade barriers has increased 2.5 times in the last 10 years. He called attention to President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as talks revolving around the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He indicated that Cargill is “eager to begin work to modernize and improve NAFTA, not dismantle it.”

“Inclusive trade agreements give American farmers and manufacturers better access to markets where they would otherwise face high barriers,” Mr. MacLennan said, pointing to U.S.D.A. data showing American agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada have more than quadrupled since NAFTA was implemented: from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.6 billion in 2015.

“We have to avoid moves that slow down global trade and in the end will prove counterproductive,” he said. “The benefits of trade go both ways. We know what can happen when protectionism disrupts the free flow of food. It can provoke famine and cause civil unrest or even war.”

Cargill is striving to drive inclusive economic growth, Mr. MacLennan said, because trade “doesn’t only produce winners.” He stressed a need to focus on investing in education, retraining and helping workers relocate to the cities and communities where they are needed most.

He also said legal immigration helps Cargill — a global company — stay competitive.

“The Wharton School policy simulator demonstrates that an increase in legal immigration doesn’t take jobs away from people,” he explained. “In fact, it creates more jobs by strengthening the overall economy. As workers across the U.S. age, keeping an open policy on legal immigration has never been more important. That is true of all types of workers — from those with blue collars to those with Ph.D.s.”

A concern voiced by Mr. MacLennan in his blog posting was whether the current climate may turn people away from wanting to live in the United States.

“We don’t want to drive away talented people and their innovative thinking,” he said. “It would weaken not only our food system, but the U.S. economy.”

Mr. MacLennan said a legal immigration system that works is the best way to address illegal immigration. He noted that Cargill only employs people who are legally allowed to work in the United States, and it also legally employs refugees. Regarding the latter group, he stressed a need for policies that ensure certainty for the refugees and their families.

“We must not close our minds or our borders,” he said. “Do we really want to drive away the world’s top talent? Do we actually want to stall the progress trade has brought to the world and the U.S.? How we answer these questions in the months and years to come will in no small part determine our competitive position in the world, the future of our economy and the prosperity of all people.”

In addition to Cargill, Mr. MacLennan serves on the boards of Ecolab, the Minnesota Business Partnership, and the U.S.-China Business Council. 

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