A small center on the Texas A&M University campus is doing some big work by quickly analyzing the impact of emerging agricultural production, trade and international policy issues.   

Professional head and shoulder photo of Dr. Luis Ribera
Luis Ribera, Ph.D., serves as director of the Center for North American Studies. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“The Center for North American Studies, part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, meets high-priority national needs by providing rapid, objective analyses in identification and response to existing and emerging issues that will have an economic impact on Texas and the nation,” said Luis Ribera, Ph.D., professor, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist and CNAS director. Ribera is in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan-College Station.

Ribera said the CNAS accomplishes these goals through extension education, applied research and economic analysis of critical trade and international policy issues

About the CNAS

Since 1994, the CNAS has collaborated with various academic, industry and governmental entities to promote stronger U.S. agricultural trade relationships with Mexico and Canada, as well as with emerging trade partners such as Cuba and Central America.

Emerging applied research, analysis and education needs from the center include:  

  • Assessing the economic impacts of emerging issues, including alternative immigration policies and immigrant labor losses on U.S. and regional agricultural systems, such as dairy farms, fresh vegetables and meats.
  • Examining the economic impacts of expanded U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba and other emerging markets.  
  • Monitoring the impacts of World Trade Organization policy reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement and emerging trade issues. 

“The objective of this applied research and education is to help assess impacts and vulnerabilities in the North American food chain, including emerging markets,” Ribera said. “We also help identify new competition and potential agro-terrorism risks in addition to other disruptions to trade.”

Expanding, monitoring trade

Ship in port being loaded
The Center for North American Studies helps assess the challenges and opportunities for international trade as well as factors affecting the Texas and U.S. agricultural supply chain. (Stock photo)

Ribera said CNAS also works to expand and monitor trade and other international forces and institutions affecting the U.S. food and fiber system.

“We try to facilitate increased market participation among private and public sector decision-makers and other key participants throughout North and Central America and emerging markets,” he said.  

While CNAS has no formal partnerships, it collaborates on projects with federal and state agencies and industry organizations.

Federal entities with which the center works include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and Economic Research Service. State entities and industry organizations include the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Citrus Mutual, Texas International Produce Association, Texas Vegetable Association, Texas Mohair Producers Board and Texas Pecan Board.

“We work with these organizations through funding and/or collaboration,” Ribera said. “We no longer receive any earmarked funding, so we need to be self-sustaining through grants and collaboration with other stakeholders.”

Why CNAS assessments are important 

Samuel Zapata, Ph.D. AgriLife Extension economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, is a frequent contributor to CNAS reports and analyses.

“The work the CNAS does on timely, relevant issues like labor, transportation and trade are important for both the state and nation,” Zapata said. “It provides real-time, unbiased data that is used by the state and federal government as well as commodity groups to represent the importance of agriculture to the domestic economy and globally.”   

Because the center is respected as a source of reliable, objective data, Zapata said its analyses are frequently used in determining the need for state or federal assistance for Texas’ agricultural producers and to set agricultural policy.

AgriLife graphic showing percentage of farm income from exported goods
About one-third of farm income is the result of agricultural products being exported to other countries. (Texas A&M AgriLife graphic)

“The analyses the CNAS provides on international trade challenges for Texas’ agricultural products in complex and fluctuating global market conditions is indispensable in helping producers make well-informed decisions about exporting their products to other countries,” Zapata said.  

The U.S. is the largest agricultural exporter in the world, and 95% of the world’s population is outside the U.S., Ribera said.

“Opening new markets and/or expanding our export share in the world is important to U.S. and Texas producers because about one-third of U.S. farm income comes from exports,” he said.

Some collaborations

Dale Murden, president of the Texas Citrus Mutual industry organization and a South Texas citrus grower, said the work by CNAS is invaluable for producers and industry.

“When I need to go to Washington D.C. or to the state capitol in Austin, I often bring an analysis on a particular economic or policy issue that’s been done by Dr. Ribera and the center,” he said. “These analyses often have to be done quickly and with a high degree of accuracy, and the center consistently delivers.” 

Murden said the center was indispensable in gathering information and analyzing the economic impact of Winter Storm Uri on the South Texas citrus industry in general.

AgriLife photo of grapefruit tree frozen by Winter Storm Uri
The Center for North American Studies has done several analyses related to the state’s agricultural sector, including an assessment of citrus losses from Winter Storm Uri. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“Once the storm hit, we knew we would have to get information on the amount and degree of damage as quickly as possible,” Murden said. “And you can’t just throw a best-guess number out there. The information must come from well-respected economists and be objective and unbiased.”

Murden said the CNAS has provided economic impact analyses related to many natural disasters that have hit the citrus industry as well as citrus greening and canker – all persistent economic challenges to that industry.

Jean Lonie, program director for international marketing with the Texas Department of Agriculture, said the analyses provided by the CNAS have been useful in addressing international trade issues.

“We initially tasked the CNAS with providing a global market analysis on about a dozen Texas agricultural commodities,” Lonie said. “We wanted to find out what the challenges and opportunities were marketing Texas products internationally, and the center provided us with a deep and insightful analysis for each of these commodities.”

The TDA has also worked with the center on several other projects related to the international opportunities for Texas commodities as well as how the importation of agricultural products from other countries may impact Texas producers, she said.

Three-panel photo of Texas ag commodities -- cotton, corn. sorghum
The Center for North American Studies collaborated with the Texas Department of Agriculture on the global market potential of numerous Texas agricultural commodities. (Texas Farm Bureau photo)

“We presented this research on the impact of imports from other countries to Congress and shared it with various commodity industry associations so they could get a full picture of the global situation,” Lonie said.    

TDA has also partnered with the center in several USDA grants on a variety of agricultural commodities, she said.

“The CNAS has been an important source of information on the global marketplace and its associated challenges and opportunities,” she said. “They have done some fantastic work and provided invaluable insights and assessments relating to both Texas and international agriculture.”    

Some recent CNAS projects

Additional projects the CNAS has recently completed or is working on include:

  • A report on the suspension of juice content requirement on imported grapefruit.
  • Developing science-based information to improve U.S. pecan marketing.
  • Work on increasing the share of Texas pecans in the Mexican market. 
  • Studying the economics and carbon intensity of peanuts for biodiesel production.  

“We look forward to continuing to work with federal, state and industry entities and other stakeholders to address these as well as other current and emerging agriculture-related economic issues,” Ribera said.  

For more information on the CNAS, contact Ribera at 979-845-3070 or [email protected].

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