The door is open, Mr. President

Barack Obama takes office tomorrow, and he's already said Canada will be the first foreign country he visits, at some yet to be determined date.

That announcement has led to optimism about his potential interest in improving relations between our country and his.

The timing is good, given the dismal state of the economy and the potential to maybe work closer with the U.S. — our biggest trading partner — on joint approaches to helping North America get back on its financial feet.

It's also a relief. Legitimate worries surfaced about Obama's attitude toward Canada when was elected. During his leadership campaign, he uttered some scary innuendos about protectionism. This wasn't immediately evident, other than the way he openly pondered revisiting the North American Free Trade Agreement, which since seems to have subsided.

But other issues simmer. If enacted, some of the environmental stipulations he was considering imposing on U.S. agriculture, particularly livestock, could become the standard by which imports are measured, too. And if a country such as Canada can't abide by those standards, or make Americans believe equivalent standards are adequate, too bad.

And Canadian farmers are getting hammered by the Americans' new country of origin labelling requirements, which tie up exports from our country in red tape.

A relatively open border is a huge trade matter and Obama needs to have his agriculture secretary work with Ottawa to try to smooth out the exchange of agricultural goods and services across the border.

However, an even bigger agricultural issue is at hand — that is, feeding the world.

If Obama dedicated his energy to addressing world hunger the way George W. Bush was committed to war, the new president could really make a difference.

While a strong military is indeed needed in our present global climate, a less-hungry world could go a long ways towards world peace. Obama is held out as being cut from a different cloth than Bush, and if he's looking to distinguish himself, a cause such as world famine offers not only a need, but an opportunity.

It's something Americans and Canadians can work on together. We have the sophistication and technology to help with chronic situations, such as drought. American scientists have predicted global warming would lead to a perpetual food crisis as a result of drought, and issued dire warnings of massive crop failures.

Who knows if that will happen. But we do know famine has been with us for a long time. It's more than an agricultural issue — politics and culture are among the mitigating factors tied up in feeding the world. But if there's one thing we know how to do, it's grow crops under tough conditions, and continually strive to get better.

Even now, when there's said to be so much competition for cropland, farmers are coming through with near-record yields. For example, a new report from the U.S. last week pegged corn production at its second largest harvest ever.

Hunger alleviation. What a great way for Canada to get back on track with its international obligations, and for Obama to chart a new course.

Part of that direction can be towards sustainable development and affordable technologies, ones that spark manufacturing possibilities in both Canada and the U.S.'s deflated sectors.

The same U.S. authors who predicted the food crisis say it's necessary to either do something about global warming, or figure out how you're going to deal with permanent reductions in yield.

Agricultural scientists have been addressing yield questions for decades. This knowledge can be applied to some of the most desperate situations, with the kind of additional help and commitment a U.S. president could give.

That approach can lead to open doors in Canada, and indeed throughout the world.


About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.