Background

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced May 11 the new position of undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. This official (who will have to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate) will oversee the Foreign Agricultural Service and serve as the USDA’s coordinator for agricultural trade policy. He/she will also chair an interagency committee that includes FAS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food Safety Inspection Service, the Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Federal Grain Inspection Service.

According to a USDA press release, U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production in these sectors. Every dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity, the USDA states, and every $1 billion in exports supports approximately 8,000 jobs across the entire U.S. economy. Agriculture has run a positive trade balance since the 1960s and exports have nearly tripled since 2000.

However, a USDA report adds, the rise of new barriers to trade and preferential trade agreements that exclude the U.S. could jeopardize this growth. USDA is therefore undertaking this reorganization to enhance its ability to quickly respond to sanitary and phytosanitary and other non-tariff trade barriers when they arise and to actively open new markets. In February a number of trade organizations registered their support for such a change, noting that the challenges U.S. agricultural producers face in global markets have “increased and markedly changed” since the last time the USDA’s trade organizational structure was updated in 1978.

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