July 23, 2010

Market development, other programs key to growing exports

The United States has been in an enviable position with its ability to post an agricultural trade surplus year after year, Jim Miller, USDA's Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, told those at the U.S. Grains Council’s 50th Annual Board of Delegates Meeting earlier this week.

Miller said that trend will continue in fiscal year 2010, when the agricultural trade surplus is estimated to be some $28 billion, the second largest in history.

“As we moved through the economic downturn, there were some impacts,” he said, “but the agriculture trade recovery is certainly well underway.”

In fact, he said, agricultural exports are expected to reach $104 billion this year, the second largest in history and below only the record $115 billion in 2008.

In an effort to increase exports across all industries, Miller said the Administration has launched the National Export Initiative with a goal to double exports over the next five years. “That is a very significant challenge,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant challenge for any sector in the economy, even in agriculture, despite its good performance lately.”

He said exports are key to growing the economy and aiding the economic recovery, because rising exports create jobs.

For agriculture, Miller said there are four areas where a renewed effort will pay dividends. Among those four areas are market development programs like those implemented by the Grains Council, which celebrated it's 50th anniversary at the meeting.

“We have a long history – you have a long history – of market development, and we’ve been relatively effective,” Miller said, adding that a budget request for increased market development funds was submitted to Congress.

He said USDA will be “extremely aggressive to make sure those funds are used in a way that allows us to maximize our efforts.”

Another item that will benefit agriculture is bilateral and multilateral trade talks. Miller said increasing trade opportunities will require a more aggressive effort within USDA, as well as working with colleagues in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. There can be accomplishments, he said, including in the Doha Round, finalizing the three existing free trade agreements that have yet to be implemented (with Colombia, Panama and Korea); the Trans-Pacific Partnership and bilateral issues that impede U.S. exports.

Ensuring the enforcement and compliance with existing trade agreements is also necessary, Miller said. “We will be redoubling that effort,” he said, “one issue and one country at a time.” He cited pork trade with Russia and access to markets for U.S. beef as examples. Yet he noted that agricultural trade is also dependent on the ability to market products that come from new technology and that technology itself.

“Efforts like biotechnology are at the forefront of this agenda,” Miller said.

Finally, Miller cited the global hunger and food security initiative as a way to boost agriculture exports. This effort stretches across governmental agencies and involves finding new ways to deliver foreign assistance programs. The goal, he said, is to think long term – to help educate people, build infrastructure and promote free and open markets. Over time, more people will have a better standard of living and will be more receptive to U.S. agricultural products.

“Poor people don’t make very good commercial customers,” he said. “We must create real growth and income in people oversees.”

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