Cultivating the Relationships Between Minnesota and Mexico: Growth Opportunities for Women in Agriculture

  • By Susan Burns
  • 20 Apr, 2016
Growth Opportunities for Women in Agriculture

Spring is finally here!

As we get ready to enjoy the most productive season of the year, it seems appropriate to highlight the major role of women in agriculture, and in the economy of Minnesota in general.

Susan Burns with Trade Mission delegates: Reception at the World Trade Center, Guadalajara

Last August, I had the opportunity to participate in a trade mission to Mexico with Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, and 43 other delegates. The purpose of the trip was to enhance the trade relationship between Minnesota and Mexico in the areas of education, manufacturing and agriculture.

Particularly noteworthy is that this was the Governor’s first trip to Mexico. Prior to the trade mission, Governor Dayton expressed the goal of the trade mission "… to establish and build relationships that will help Minnesota companies and producers increase their exports to Mexico, and in doing so, create more jobs here at home.”

One of the highlights of the trip for this daughter of a farm girl was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by Dave Frederickson, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and Enrique Martinez, Minister of Agriculture of Mexico, focused on promoting gender equity and empowering women in agriculture. This Memorandum acknowledged the differences between men and women in agriculture, and how those differences affect productivity and food security.
Susan Burns at the Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Minnesota and Mexico
Photos above (left to right): Susan Burns with Governor Mark Dayton; Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding; Susan Burns with Commisioner Dave Frederickson

Women in agriculture in Minnesota and Mexico face significant challenges that affect their professional development -- despite the importance of their contribution to the economy.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, 6,370 Minnesota farms are operated mainly by women. Most of those farms (5,298) are fully owned by women. The product of their labor has a market value of $400 million a year.

The purpose of the Memorandum of Understanding is to help women by encouraging them to work together to overcome obstacles that prevent their full development and career growth. Not only women in agriculture working on their own farms, but also career development in agribusiness, providing services to farmers, products such as fertilizers, agrifeeds, doing research, or helping farmers manage their farms through financial or insurance services.

Women have always been a critical part of the global food chain. 

In rural communities, women have been responsible not only for maintaining the household, but they have also been in charge of planting vegetables in their home gardens, raising chickens, turkeys, goats, and other small livestock. These activities supplement the nutrition of their families.

Currently, women have a wider participation in crop production and organic and sustainable agriculture. In some countries, their contributions, involvement, and responsibilities are actually expanding to outpace that of men in the industry.

More and more food and agriculture-related companies such as Pepsi, Mondelez, and Campbell Soup, are directed by women. There are several female Deans of Agriculture in universities. However, there are still gaps between men and women in areas such as education, healthcare, credit options, land, technology, and training programs that could help women secure and improve their participation in agriculture.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed last August is a major step toward the development of new opportunities for women in the business of agriculture and to further develop the economies of Minnesota and Mexico and their close and important commercial relationship.

Susan Burns at the Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Minnesota and Mexico
Photos above (left to right): Susan Burns with Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer; Susan Burns with Jesus Saracho and Lori Stevermer at the MN State Fair post trade mission; A famous cathedral: Gran Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México

Lori Stevermer, President of Minnesota Pork Producers Association, was part of the trade mission. Ms. Stevermer noted that women have become more visible in the agricultural field during the last 10 to 15 years, taking leadership roles, whether on the farm, in sales, or in agribusiness. That said, she saw a need to have more women as leaders in their own companies. She also saw the same tendency in Mexico, and noted the importance to provide support and knowledge to Mexican women in agriculture. “Mexico will continue to be an important trade partner for us,” she said. “One-quarter of the pigs go to the export market, and it will be a higher percentage in the future […] There’s already a lot of trade between Minnesota and Mexico; the pathway is open, and that’s good.” 

"A lot of trade" may be a bit of an understatement. Minnesota's exports to Mexico increased 255 percent between 2004 and 2014, and in 2014 Mexico surpassed China and became Minnesota's second largest export market. With this increase in exports and Mexico's proximity, it plays a key role in the development of our state's agricultural industry.

After the trade mission, Governor Dayton committed to lead another trade mission to Mexico in the near future, commenting: "Our trade mission to Mexico was the most productive trade mission that I have been involved with. As our second-largest export market, and the world's 15th-largest economy, Mexico is a ripe opportunity for Minnesota businesses and farmers. "

Trade mission participant, Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer, showed his support at the Federal level, stating: “As our state’s second largest export market, Mexico's investments in their infrastructure and manufacturing base provide tremendous opportunities for Minnesota. By expanding ties and improving coordination […], we can strengthen our state by creating mutual growth and commercial success as partners.”

The Memorandum of Understanding can be a critical factor in the development of a great partnership between women in agriculture in Minnesota and Mexico.

Because of this Memorandum, we hope to see more gender equity, more women pursuing careers in agriculture, and more opportunities for their professional growth, which will consequently allow the agricultural industry in both countries to grow as well.

This is such a great opportunity for Minnesota women in agriculture to expand their operations, both locally and to consider expansion to Mexico. If you’re a woman in agriculture, think about it. And, it goes without saying that it’s of utmost importance to take care of the legal aspects of your business before considering an expansion. By having your legal I’s dotted and T’s crossed, your business will be protected, the expansion process will be smooth and more efficient, and it will be easier to obtain the necessary permits and licenses to operate, avoiding fines and unnecessary delays.  Contact a seasoned business strategist and legal advisor , to help you with your expansion plans, and get ready to grow your company.


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The TPP is a piece of legislation I have been closely following, and recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel entitled, "The Impact of TPP on NAFTA: Opportunity for Strengthening Ties -- Or Recipe for Disaster." Panel members included Aristeo Lopez of the Mexican Embassy, Laura Sierra of Alston & Bird, Nicholas Guzman of Drinker, Biddle & Reath, and Greg Kanargelidis of Blake, Cassels & Graydon.


The American Bar Association Section of International sponsored this event with the intention of presenting US, Mexican, and Canadian standpoints on the TPP and the impact of its passage on NAFTA. What followed was a thoughtful and informative discussion, and although the topic is highly complex, I thought I'd share some highlights with you.


Ms. Sierra explained some of the political context surrounding the TPP, including that the US has historically been pro-trade, and this is the first time since 1992 that trade has been a significant issue in presidential election year politics. US FTAs are modeled after NAFTA. The agreement eliminates a significant number of tariffs that would be beneficial to US businesses, but there are dissenting voices. Some of the concerns include employment issues, the manipulation of currencies by various countries, and opposition in specific industries such as auto, segments of agriculture and pharmaceuticals and biologics whose concerns were not addressed in the agreement. For example, intellectual property protection for biologics is not included in the agreement.


Mr. Lopez pointed out the benefits of NAFTA--growth in trade between Mexico and the US, especially--and explained that the TPP is intended to expand upon this growth, with attention to subjects that were treated less comprehensively in NAFTA. Another goal of TPP, in Mr. Lopez' view, is to strengthen Mexico's ties to NAFTA and other FTA partners, allowing Mexican goods to reach new markets.


Mr. Kanargelidis noted that the TPP is not intended to replace or override NAFTA, but that the two agreements can co-exist. He pointed out US, Mexican, and Canadian businesses can operate under the clauses of whichever agreement is most favorable to them in a given transaction. For example, the "de minimis" value threshold is 10% under TPP, and only 7% under NAFTA.


An audience member posed the question of whether TPP shipments will be exempt from US Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF) like NAFTA shipments are. Mr. Guzman explained that even though TPP does away with "ad valorem" fees, US Customs might find another way to collect MPF that is compliant with the agreement. He also described the TPP's "focused value" methodology for determining goods' origin, which might be more stringent than NAFTA methods.


Opponents to the TPP often cite concerns about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, which outlines the mechanism by which agreement disputes can be settled. Mr. Lopez explained that the TPP’s ISDS provisions are more transparent than those found in NAFTA.


At the conclusion of the panel, Ms. Sierra suggested that a full renegotiation of the TPP is unlikely, given that the agreement was difficult to reach in the first place, and that several countries have already ratified it. However, we might see some side letters that result in alterations to the text pertaining to certain issues. Panelists agreed that the TPP will pass. It’s a matter of time and final form.


The TPP has been negotiated between 12 countries who together form about 40% of GDP, and 1/3 of world trade. The agreement is of an unprecedented scope, and the implications of this agreement are huge. We will soon know if it can pass during the lame-duck session before the election, which is fast approaching!


To learn more about the TPP, visit this site . The full text of the agreement can be found here .



Granville, Kevin. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Explained.” The New York Times. 20 August 2016. Web.

 “The Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Office of the United States Trade Representative. Executive Office of the President. 2016. Web.
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