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Midlands Voices

Midlands Voices: UNL develops young Nebraska leaders who understand trade's importance

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Farmers point out drought problems to Clayton Yeutter during a visit to a farm near Afton, Iowa, on May 31, 1989. Yeutter, a Nebraska native, served as U.S. trade representative and U.S. secretary of agriculture, advising four presidents on international trade and modern agriculture. A trade-focused institute at UNL is named after him.

Two years ago, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore wrote a paper titled “Who has the Authority to Impose Tariffs and How Does This Affect International Trade?” while interning for the university’s Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance. The internship gave student Emily Loftis the opportunity to research and think critically about a complex and important topic. It also contributed a young voice to the national discussion on tariffs.

Today Emily’s paper is among the most-read sections of the Yeutter Institute’s website, followed closely by other student-authored work. This illustrates the reach students can have when given the opportunity, as well as the nimble thinking required of today’s young leaders, who will shape tomorrow’s international trade policies and institutions.

Nebraska has produced leaders who have done this before, most notably Clayton Yeutter himself. The Eustis, Nebraska, native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate advised four presidents on trade and agriculture, including through service as U.S. trade representative and secretary of agriculture. Among other historic achievements, Yeutter led the effort in 1989 to launch the Uruguay Round of negotiations that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization.

Widely known for his foresight not only on trade, but also education, Yeutter told students in a 1989 speech at Kansas State University that “the world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and you are going to have to adjust to that.”

Those words adorn the walls of the Yeutter Institute, and they drive everything we do there.

Launched in 2018 to fulfill Yeutter’s vision, the Yeutter Institute connects law, policy, agriculture and business to develop new trade policy talent, produce interdisciplinary research, and create new opportunities for the public to learn about trade. Every part of this integrated mission begins in the same way: by asking the right questions.

Our core faculty do this through their research, bringing their respective disciplines together to tackle big questions — important for a subject like trade that is inherently interdisciplinary. We do this through our “Trade Matters” podcast and through conferences and other events in which we ask current and former trade officials to explain the trade-offs they have to navigate in policymaking, and how those trade-offs affect Nebraskans, farmers, ranchers and others.

We also ask Nebraskans what they think. In a joint project with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nebraskans from Omaha to Scottsbluff put trade at the top of the list when asked about foreign economic policies affecting them, consistently citing the same reason: agriculture. Nebraska is a top producer of beef, irrigated corn, and several varieties of dry beans. Revenues from agriculture benefit related industries and other sectors. Nebraska’s top exports are agriculture-related, and its dominant export markets are U.S. trade agreement partners. The state’s non-agriculture-related trading activity is significant, too.

Nebraska voices should always be part of those discussions. Preparing our students to take on those roles — and helping provide them with the means to accept opportunities to help them get a foot in the door — is essential to this.

That is why we recently announced the Yeutter Student Scholar Award Fund, created through private donations. A minimum of one $5,000 award will be granted each year beginning this fall to help pay the travel and living expenses of a student who secures an unpaid or modestly paid internship for a trade-related organization, such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The award will increase access to these valuable internship experiences for students who could not otherwise afford to pursue them, and will ultimately expand the number of Nebraska voices shaping trade policy.

Yeutter’s closing message to students in the 1989 Kansas speech was this: “if you are prepared to be broad and creative and global in your thinking, you should have a very productive and rewarding career indeed.” In the spirit of one of Nebraska’s great public servants, the students who connect with the institute that bears his name should be poised for trade policy careers that benefit not only themselves, but also ultimately Nebraska, the agriculture industry and the country.

Jill O’Donnell is director of the Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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