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USMEF Board Meeting Gets Underway in St. Louis

Published: May 26, 2016

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Board of Directors Meeting and Product Showcase kicked off Wednesday in St. Louis, Missouri. Attendees were welcomed to the event by Richard Fordyce, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Fordyce discussed the important role exports have played in making agriculture Missouri’s largest industry, and outlined several initiatives designed to promote agricultural development in the state – including programs designed to attract and retain young farmers and ranchers.

“If agriculture is going to maintain that No. 1 ranking in Missouri, we’re going to have to grow that new crop of leaders,” Fordyce said. “We need to work with young people to continue to ignite the passion they have for agriculture, continue to cultivate that interest, and move them forward in their agricultural careers.”

Richard Fordyce, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, discusses the importance of exports to his state’s ag economy

Fordyce also discussed his department’s efforts to promote Missouri’s agricultural products in international markets, including an upcoming trade mission to Cuba next week.

Wednesday’s keynote address was provided by Jonathan Cordone, USDA deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. Cordone noted that USDA currently has 93 international offices covering more than 170 countries on behalf of U.S. agriculture. He stressed the importance of market access for U.S. products, which has been enhanced in recent years through negotiation and ratification of several trade agreements. But Cordone also acknowledged that trade agreements are only as valuable as the United States’ ability to enforce them.

“We have an excellent record of ensuring that countries cut their tariffs as they promise to do in our trade agreements, and historically this has been the primary force driving our increased exports to FTA partners,” Cordone explained. “But that’s not the whole story. There are non-tariff barriers that unjustly restrict our access in some markets, and USMEF and its members know better than most that other countries are increasingly deploying non-tariff barriers as their protectionist tool of choice.”

Cordone emphasized USDA efforts to address these barriers through bilateral engagement, noting, “This goes on every day, and without much fanfare at all.” He said it is important for USDA to better inform policymakers, industry stakeholders and the public about the “real-world success stories” resulting from this constant engagement with trading partners.

Also addressing USMEF members was Jesus Madrazo, Monsanto’s vice president for corporate engagement. Madrazo discussed ways in which Monsanto is collaborating with industry partners to meet growing global food demand, but to do so while promoting environmental stewardship and addressing concerns such as climate change, water usage and scarcity of agricultural land. He applauded the increased willingness of agricultural producers to engage with the public on these issues.

Jonathan Cordone, USDA deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, addresses key trade policy and enforcement issues

“It has been a real privilege to see how many more people are participating in conversations in social media and in other forums where agriculture did not show up in the past,” Madrazo noted. “Now we’re seeing the voice of agriculture represented in forums where consumers typically get their information, and that’s a great thing.”

Jesus Madrazo of Monsanto discusses ways in which his company is collaborating with industry partners to meet growing global food demand

In addition to the lineup of guest speakers, attendees also heard from USMEF Chair Roel Andriessen, who heads international sales for Tyson Fresh Meats. Andriessen gave USMEF members an update on the organization’s strategic planning efforts and outlined the process through which USMEF applies for funding from the USDA Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.

USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng also addressed Wednesday’s opening general session, providing his thoughts on global market conditions and stressing the importance of exports in advancing growth and profitability in the U.S. meat industry. Seng lamented the recent increase in anti-trade sentiment in the U.S. political climate, noting the critical role trade has historically played in the country’s growth and development.

“Trade is being discussed – and being cussed – like never before,” Seng said. “But in my view, trade is really in our DNA.”

Thursday’s agenda includes a panel discussion on the impact of Russia’s recent decline as a meat importer, and how this is affecting trading patterns across the globe. A panel discussion will also be held on the impact of currencies and exchange rates on red meat trade. USMEF’s standing committees – the Pork and Allied Industries Committee, Beef and Allied Industries Committee, Exporter Committee and Feedgrain and Oilseed Caucus – will also meet.

Thursday evening features the USMEF Product Showcase, in which member companies will display beef, pork and lamb products for international buyers. This week USMEF is hosting 16 trade teams that include about 130 buyers from key markets across the world. In addition to attending the meeting in St Louis, these buyers had opportunities earlier in the week to observe U.S. meat production, processing and merchandising practices, and to visit several farming and ranching operations.