The popular press is full of articles about how the first decade of the 21st century was marked by the rise of China as a global economic power. American values and entrepreneurial capitalism has been exported to all corners of the globe and the transformation is nothing short of amazing. Even countries in Latin America and Africa have liberalized their economies.

It’s been a simply unprecedented period of rapid economic growth. Perhaps the greatest shift is the economic balance of power from the Atlantic corridor of the U.S. and Europe to the Pacific Rim and Asia. In today's current economic environment it’s easy to be discouraged about America's prospects, particularly with our seeming movement away from the ideals that made us the economic envy of the world toward a statist and semi-socialist economy.

However, I believe what we’re undergoing is an aberration rather than a total denial of the values that enabled us to be the economic leader in the past. Nonetheless, the reality is that China and Asia have the manpower and growing consumer market to not only rival but supersede the American economy.

The contest of the 20th century was between totalitarianism (communism and Nazism) and the U.S., a battle fought and won along political lines. The contest of the 21st century, according to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Minister Mentor, will be an economic one between China and the U.S.

From an industry standpoint, our future, too, lies in our competitiveness outside of our borders; the current attitude of protectionism and resistance to global marketplace demands have been similar in their effect to the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill that created the Great Depression.

But I believe cattlemen will once again – and soon – realize the importance of export markets, market access and global competitiveness. The U.S. has been taken to the global woodshed over the last six years, and the other beef-exporting countries of the world have taken full advantage. We must come to grips with the fact that we have ceded our competitive advantage and are now in a position of playing catch up.

It will be difficult to explain to our children how or why we simply ceded the largest market potential of all time (Asia) to our competitors. And we did so because we simply didn't fight for market access and refused to adjust to the demands of the global marketplace.

Whether this is seen as a time of aberration for America and the American cattle industry or the beginning of their decline falls squarely on our shoulders and our responses to the challenges of today. These challenges aren’t insurmountable, but neither can we continue on our current course.