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Texas Ag Commissioner hopes to talk trade initiative with Israel

Texs Ag Commissioner Sid Miller hopes a trip to Israel will result in increased trade for Texas farms and ranches.

At a time when trade deals with global partners is facing uncertainty under a Trump presidency, Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) officials are touting the possibility of a new trade initiative with Israel.

TDA's Mark Loeffler reports Miller has been invited to Israel to meet with regional and national officials, including Uri Ariel, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to discuss vital agricultural issues, including trade and jobs.

According to a TDA press release, Miller's trip to Israel will be scheduled for some time in March.

While any international trade related to agriculture is potentially good news for Texas producers, Miller, who was elected Commissioner of TDA two years ago, has been criticized in the past for using state funds to finance personal travel expenses. That issue surfaced when the Houston Chronicle questioned a pair of out of state trips, one to Oklahoma and another to Mississippi, charging Miller had conducted private business during those out of state ventures and charged the trips were primarily related to private interests

To Miller's credit, however, Travis County prosecutors, after an investigation by Texas Rangers, ruled Miller also conducted state business and charging him with misuse of funds would be difficult to prove, ending the possibility of formal charges.

While the planned trip to Israel will involve meetings related to agriculture with Israeli officials, according to Loeffler, Miller is also scheduled to tour Judaen and Samarian West bank settlements at the invitation of Yossi Dagan, Governor of Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council.

EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES

Miller, a professed Christian who strongly supports a U.S. relationship and support of the Israeli state as part of his religious beliefs, says the upcoming visit is primarily directed at exploring opportunities for "an agricultural initiative that would be beneficial to both Texas and Israel."

"I am going to deliver the message to our trade partners in Israel that Texas is open for business and that we are looking forward to strengthening the bond between Texas and Israel," Miller said. "Whether working on agricultural technology such as livestock genetics, finding solutions to our future water needs, increasing Texas exports or creating new jobs for both Texas and Israel, we have only scratched the surface of the ways we can work together."

Political opponents, however, are expected to question whether the announcement may be related to Miller's aspirations to become the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Miller has been serving as an adviser to president-elect Trump, and, according to news reports, is being considered for the post. Miller's support for Israel largely mirrors Trump's position on the Jewish state, leading some to believe that the announcement is conveniently timed with the deadline for Trump to make a final selection for the ag secretary post.

In spite of anticipated questions by those supporting other nominees for ag secretary, it can't be argued that Miller's plans to discuss mutual agricultural partnerships with Israel could produce positive results for Texas producers. For one, Israel officials appear genuine in their anticipation of the upcoming visit.

"I look forward to working closely with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Miller and his team to strengthen the already strong ties that exist between Israel and Texas," Minister Ariel said. "I also look forward to increasing the trade and marketing opportunities between Texas and Israel and am anxious to build upon this new opportunity."

STRENGTHENING TIES

Loeffler reports Commissioner Miller’s visit kicks off a new Texas Department of Agriculture initiative to strengthen ties between the State of Texas and the Jewish state of Israel through trade and marketing opportunities. As a part of that initiative, Miller’s office “is already working” on discussions with Israeli companies to invest in production, distribution, and marketing centers in Texas.

In an apparent effort at transparency concerning his role as a resource for President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration, Miller said the timing of this international outreach is perfect.

"The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is at an all-time low, thanks to President Obama and his disregard for our greatest ally for freedom in the Middle East," Miller says. "President-elect Donald Trump has promised a new positive engagement with Israel, and I am excited that America will soon return to a warm and prosperous relationship with the State of Israel."

Loeffler writes that since taking office, Miller and staff have traveled to every continent except Antarctica to represent Texas agriculture and promote Texas products and businesses. He says his visit to China may have helped open the door to greater trade with the Lone Star State, specifically on the purchase of American beef and Texas pecans.

The TDA was recently awarded $800,000 from the Small Business Administration to spur growth in Texas companies exporting abroad.

"Texas and Israel are common ground separated by 7,000 miles," Commissioner Miller said. "We have so much in common, from a similar terrain with the same agricultural challenges to a love of freedom born out of an early struggle for survival. Texas and Israel both know what it means to fight for freedom and win."

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