DENVER – Opening day of the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) board of directors meeting in Washington had an optimistic tone, seeing that US pork and beef exports are on a record pace so far in 2011. But attendees were reminded the industry is still being handcuffed by a number of obstacles and trade barriers.

Premiums derived from meat exports are especially critical to livestock producers at a time of record-high production costs, USMEF Chairman Keith Miller reminded attendees. “The president keeps saying he wants to double exports in the next five years,” he said. “I agree with him. And that will provide a lot of jobs in our rural communities. USMEF is trying to help beef, pork and lamb producers to be able to make a profit and that profit is shared throughout the entire community.

“Without red meat exports, think about how you would pay for the $4 a gallon diesel fuel, the $700 anhydrous ammonia that I just paid the bill for last week or that $7 corn to feed to the livestock we have. We couldn’t do that if we didn’t have exports.”

Trade barriers must continue being removed to give US products a more level playing field, US Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said.

“US farm exports are booming,” he said. “Last year our exports reached almost $109 billion. They supported more than 900,000 American jobs. This year exports are on pace to exceed $135 billion with a trade surplus of nearly $50 billion. But our competitors are gaining ground. And we’re staying focused with the task at hand – removing barriers and opening new markets for our farmers and ranchers.

“This year Congress is poised to approve three trade agreements with Columbia, South Korea and Panama,” he added. “It is estimated these agreements once implemented will increase US exports by more than $12 billion....and that they will increase US gross domestic products by more than $15 billion. These three FTAs are being readied for Congressional approval. We’re holding hearings, we’ve drafting implementing legislation – but we’re not there yet.”

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “The first six months of the fiscal year we did $75 billion of ag trade. That was the best six-month period in the history of USDA ..... and we’re not going to stop. We’re not going to be satisfied with this level. Every $1 billion of ag sales generates 8,400 jobs.

“So, when you see a dramatic increase in the number of ag exports and you see an increase in private sector job growth and you see a recovering economy, it’s not much of a stretch to make a link that ag is helping the country move its way out of the deep recession it was in,” he added. “And the fact that we have a surplus is testimony to the extraordinary innovation the the ag producers have shown.”