The global COVID-19 pandemic is creating all sorts of uncertainty for world agriculturalists, but the importance of promoting sustainability through trade agreements among countries remain essential, a panel of agriculturalists said.

To do that, "We've got to reduce the regulatory differences between countries," said Bill Bryant, founder and chairman of Bryant Christie Inc., which helps companies and industry organizations develop, execute, evaluate and strengthen their market access and market development strategies.

Bryant was among was among the speakers in a webinar on "Sustainability and Efficient Trade," held July 22. The online event, open to the news media, was sponsored by the Farm Foundation, based in Oak Brook, Ill., and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

Also on the panel were Rory McAlpine with Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian business that describes itself as a "sustainable protein company," and Mac Marshall of the United Soybean Board, which administers soybean checkoff activities.

"Sustainable agricultural practices are intended to protect the environment, expand the Earth’s natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Bryant described himself as an environmentalist and "a Republican who believes that humans are accelerating climate change and that we need a global response."

Bryant, who's been involved for many years in trade agreements, once opposed including environmental provisions in trade agreements. "I really thought that trade agreements were for trade and environmental agreements were for the environment and that it should stay that way," he said.

Over time, he's changed his mind. "I wasn't entirely wrong. (But) I've come to appreciate that I wasn't right, either," he said.

Including environmental components in trade agreements can help the agreements be approved, while not including those components works against them being approved, Bryant said.

McAlpine said he sought to provide a "consumer- and business-focused" perspective on world ag trade. Maple Leaf Foods, which has more than 13,000 employees, offers both animal- and plant-based protein and is focused on enhancing the sustainability of its products, he said.

Some people mistakenly believe that global trade agreements hurt safety and the environment. "The idea that trade agreements drive to a race to the bottom, I don't believe is proven out," he said.

"Not only do trade agreement enhance wealth creation globally, which allows for investment and higher safety and environmental standards. It also helps everyone based on trade rules come to compliance with science-based and least-restrictive measures," McAlpine said. "That's what a modern trade agreement does.

About 60% of US. soybeans go to foreign customers, many of whom value sustainability, Marshall said.

U.S. soybean growers are doing a very good and ever-improving job of raising beans sustainably, he said.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute says it "leads, catalyzes and coordinates independent strategic and policy analysis on emerging agri-food issues, engages stakeholders in dialogue, and advances public policy."

The Farm Foundation describes itself as "an accelerator of practical solutions for agriculture."