U.S. producers face “a crisis of competitiveness,” and the remedy starts with close analysis of the competitive dynamic in global markets.

Rebecca Bratter, the U.S. Grains Council vice-president for international operations, greeted attendees at the 9th International Marketing Conference and 52nd Annual Membership Meeting with a no-holds-barred overview of rapidly changing market realities around the world.

With the U.S. share of global corn exports now edging below 50 percent for the first time, Bratter made it clear that the U.S. cannot take market dominance for granted.

“Many factors contribute to the change,” Bratter noted.

Among the most pervasive, reported in virtually every market around the world, were concerns about U.S. corn quality. Some of this is a lingering effect from recognized issues with the 2009 crop, but some also reflects longstanding concerns, especially in tropical markets, about moisture content.

Other key factors include tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, foreign production and export subsidies, and price competition from aggressive competitors in Argentina, Brazil and the Black Sea region, which are ramping up production in response to high global prices for corn and other feed grains.

Echoing a point made earlier by Council Chairman Wendell Shauman, Bratter emphasized that the new competition is here to stay.

As Shauman remarked, we can hardly fault others for competing effectively for market share because, in large part, “we taught them how to do it.”

But rising competition means U.S. producers must look aggressively to emerging markets in which the U.S. can earn a competitive edge. The United States must also work hard to ensure a level playing field: competitors are negotiating many trade agreements excluding the United States, and enforcement of WTO rules is uneven, to the frequent disadvantage of the United States.

“There is no single, easy answer,” emphasized Bratter; “it’s a country-by-country, market-by-market analysis.”

The United States enjoys great competitive advantages and is still the dominant player in the global grains trade. Maintaining that position in the face of rising competition and rebuilding market share is the challenge ahead for U.S. producers and the Grains Council.