Va. promoting foreign trade opportunities

In the state’s latest effort to promote the exportation of Virginia grown agricultural goods, local producers will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with state-contracted international trade consultants in June.

Stephanie Agee, director of marketing and development for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, noted consultants from European markets, China, India, the United Kingdom and Canada will be present to talk with producers.

Agee described the consultants as “business development specialists” that the department contracts to vet potential buyers for Virginia producers.

“These are companies that are on board with us to open up new markets for Virginia agricultural exports,” Agee said.

This announcement could be good news for local fruit and apple producers looking to diversify through foreign trade markets.

Last December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the state reopened trade talks with India for apples.

Agee said, “I guess December was kind of our first big sale of apples to India, and that has been continuing in 2015, which has been really great to see.”

In December, McAuliffe and a delegation of apple buyers met with local growers throughout the Shenandoah Valley region who were vetted by consultants contracted through the department.

“Some of those buyers that came on that visit in December are continuing to make regular purchases from our apple producers,” Agee noted.

The state as a whole is coming off of a record year in which $3.35 billion in agricultural and forestry products were exported to foreign markets.

“I would say that there’s no reason to [think] there would be any downturn in the volume of activity between Virginia apple producers and the Indian buyers,” Agee said.

“Seeing that starting to take off, I think we have every reason to suspect that that will continue throughout the rest of this year,” Agee said.

The meetings, Agee said, represents an opportunity for producers of varying commodities, production sizes and trade history to “just get their feet wet with talking with some of our consultants.”

Agee added that, for producers exporting for the first time, a market like Canada is one that “many companies find to be more comfortable to get started in.”

“A lot of times Canada and [the United Kingdom] can be great for first-time exporters, just because there’s a comfort level there,” Agee said, noting that this familiarity can also mean more competition nationwide.

From 2008 to 2014, Agee dealt with international exchange first-hand as a member of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, a government entity that seeks to promote international trade to businesses.

Through this experience, Agee said she found that individual Virginia companies “have a much greater level of comfort … once they’ve been able to sit down with” a state-employed international representative of that commodity.

“We want Virginia producers to use this resource,” Agee said. “We hope to spread that message: ‘These people are here, they’re available and they are ready to work for you.'”

The meetings are being held at three localities statewide: Richmond on June 22, Blacksburg on June 24, and Winchester on June 25.

Interested producers are being encouraged to contact Caitlin Clark, of the department’s Office of International Marketing, at 540-461-1246 to register for a meeting.

Agee noted that meetings with the consultants will be scheduled on a “first-come, first-serve” basis and will be broken down into blocks of 45 minutes to one hour.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com