WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) is poised to fulfill a request by stakeholders in the meat and poultry industry to establish a position of undersecretary for trade within the USDA. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans for an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Affairs at the agency.
“Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world,” Perdue said in a statement. “By working side by side with our US Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world.”
Under Perdue’s plan to reorganize the agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service, which specializes in overseas markets, will be placed under the new undersecretary for trade. Currently, FAS shares its mission with the Farm Service Agency, which oversees domestic issues, and the Risk Management Agency (RMA).
Congress created the job in the 2014 Farm Bill, but the position remained vacant during the Obama Administration. In February, US agriculture industry groups joined in a letter to President Donald Trump urging the administration to revamp the trade organizational structure at the USDA. The meat and poultry industry groups were quick to applaud Perdue’s decision to appoint and undersecretary for trade.
“The Secretary’s plan to move decisively on opportunities for agricultural trade is greatly appreciated by the turkey industry, whose exports USDA just forecasted higher on expected demand growth from our trading partners,” Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, said in a statement. “Our export markets are keys to profitability, as global consumers increasingly seek turkey’s many healthy meal choices. Turkey producers appreciate the Secretary’s straightforward promise to farmers: ‘You grow it, we’ll sell it.’”
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) reported that meat and poultry represent 15 percent of US exports, which represents $16 billion in value. And while demand for meat and poultry products is growing around the world, the United States remains at a disadvantage in some markets.
In a quarterly report on exports of US red meat, Philip Seng, president of the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) noted that a higher percentage of US beef and pork production went to exports entering 2017. “Our products are commanding solid prices and winning back market share in many key destinations, even with a strong US dollar and many trade barriers still in place,” Seng explained. “But our competitors are working every day to reverse this trend, so we must aggressively expand and defend our international customer base.”
An Undersecretary for Trade will help meat and poultry producers accomplish these objectives, industry stakeholders argue.
“USDA’s current trade structure is outdated and needs streamlining to keep pace with the current trade challenges in the global marketplace,” NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter said. “An Under Secretary for Trade will bring unified high level, agriculture-focused representation to key trade negotiations with senior, foreign officials and within the Executive Branch to help grow trade opportunities around the world.”
“Trade is essential to the economic vitality of the US and agricultural trade not only benefits our economy but also helps feed millions around the world,” Carpenter added. “USDA is now positioned to appoint an Under Secretary with extensive experience in international trade negotiation and policy issues who can advocate for the importance of science based agricultural trade.”
Additionally, Perdue said an undersecretary will be selected for a new Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which will focus on domestic agricultural issues and include the FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Meanwhile, the undersecretary for natural resources and environment will continue to supervise the US Forest Service. Not part of the reorganization plan is a reduction in USDA workforce.