Politics should stop at the water's edge, and while we, the two authors of this article, may be from different sides of the aisle, one thing all people can agree on is that being engaged in the world benefits our state, our country and our planet. When America is strong and engaged through development and diplomacy around the globe, Minnesotans win — and so does the rest of the world.
One thing we have learned over the past 18 months is that what happens in one part of the world can affect us deeply here in Minnesota. None of us imagined a virus becoming a global pandemic costing millions of lives, wrecking our economy and threatening instability that puts us all at risk.
Viruses, like COVID-19, are just a plane ride away, so America is not going to be completely safe until every country in the world has the outbreak under control. That is why our nation's important work to end this pandemic globally is such a wise investment. It is 10 to 100 times cheaper for wealthy countries to share vaccines with low-income countries than to not share, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The time is now for the United States to lead the global COVID-19 response by sharing vaccines produced by American ingenuity and technology. The U.S. has always been a leader in doing its part to protect the world from diseases from HIV/AIDS to polio, and this is no exception. There is a leadership vacuum our country can and needs to fill. Take Africa, for example, where the COVID death toll is increasing weekly, recently by as much at 43%, all while only 1% of Africa's population is vaccinated.
The U.S. is filling this leadership vacuum through its foreign aid programs not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is one of the best returns on investment we can make for local economies.
Entrepreneurs right here in Minnesota rely on connections around the world to build successful businesses. When those local businesses thrive, so do the hundreds of thousands of employees and families they support. Job creators here in our state flourish thanks to their strong partnerships with global markets — especially when it comes to Minnesota's $6.4 billion in agricultural exports.
Minnesota is the fifth-largest agricultural exporter in the United States, supplying global markets with soybeans, corn, pork, feed grain and more. Agriculture and other sectors of our economy that are major participants in global trade support 1 in 5 jobs in our state — totaling nearly 756,000. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), Minnesota exported $20.1 billion in goods to foreign markets last year, even at the height of this pandemic.
Companies with headquarters in Minnesota, such as Cargill, General Mills and Land O'Lakes, also partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to build long-term food security and economic development in low-income countries, spurring economic growth around the world and here in Minnesota.
Whether it's Minnesota farmers producing crops that consumers want to buy, or Minnesota's Olympic gold medal gymnast Suni Lee representing the U.S. on the world stage, our participation in global affairs has resonating positive effects for our North Star State.
When the U.S. steps up and partners on the global stage, our citizens and businesses win. At only 1% of the overall U.S. budget, foreign aid provides a huge return on investment. That's what foreign aid is worth to Minnesota.
Norm Coleman represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2003 to 2009. He is a board member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and co-chair of its Minnesota State Advisory Committee. Mark Ritchie served as Minnesota's secretary of state from 2007 to 2015. He is president of Global Minnesota and a member of the USGLC's Minnesota State Advisory Committee.