David MacLennan — chairman and chief executive officer of the Minnesota-based agribusiness Cargill Inc. — has broken from the privately held company’s typically low-key profile to support inclusive trade and immigration policy.
In order to protect food security and keep American businesses competitive, policymakers will need to reject counterproductive moves that isolate the United States and stall economic progress, MacLennan wrote in a Huffington Post opinion piece published Friday. That means not walling the United States off from global markets or shutting down visa programs for highly skilled foreign workers, the chief executive argued.
“We must not close our minds or our borders,” MacLennan wrote. “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.”
MacLennan echoed similar remarks in a speech delivered at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul also on Friday.
MacLennan’s public support for inclusive immigration and trade policies comes as the Trump administration tries to implement a controversial travel ban for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries — Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Signed on Jan. 27, the executive order from President Donald Trump calls for “extreme vetting” and the suspension of U.S. refugee admissions.
A federal judge in Seattle on Friday ordered a national halt to the enforcement of the travel ban.
“Unfortunately, the current climate has many of our smartest people from outside the U.S. questioning whether they want to stay here,” MacLennan wrote in the Huffington Post piece. “Are they really welcome in our communities? Is this still a positive environment to which to live and raise their kids? We don’t want to drive away talented people and their innovated thinking. It would weaken not only our food system, but the U.S. economy.”
In line with many food and farm companies, Cargill has often supported legal immigration programs and international trade.
Although Trump promised to pull out of it, Cargill consistently lobbied on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal for parts of five years, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found. The deal would have bolstered agricultural trade between the United States and 11 Pacific-Rim nations, according to industry experts.
The Trump administration has also heavily criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite U.S. Department of Agriculture data that shows American agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada have more than quadrupled since its implementation in 1993.
MacLennan wrote that Cargill is eager to “modernize and improve NAFTA” and not “dismantle it.” According to its company overview, Cargill has 150,000 employees in 70 different countries.