The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday said by resolving dozens of trade issues in 2012, it has witnessed a freeing of about $4 billion in U.S. agricultural and forestry products.
"USDA staff are monitoring more than 160 markets to ensure an open system of trade, free from unwarranted and unjustified barriers," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
"Since 2009, USDA has acted to remove hundreds of unfair barriers to trade for American companies and is providing businesses with the resources they need to reach new markets,” he said. “These efforts have resulted in the most successful period in the history for American agriculture and a boon for America's rural economies and agriculture-related businesses."
During past year, USDA said it worked to eliminate barriers, open new markets, secure the release of U.S. shipments detained at foreign ports, and ensure the safe movement of agricultural products in a manner consistent with science and international standards.
“Overall, a highly-dedicated group of USDA Foreign Service officers, animal and plant health experts, and analysts monitor 162 markets around the world, ensuring a level playing field for U.S. businesses and products. USDA works in partnership with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and other federal offices and agencies,” the department said.
According to USDA, the American brand of agriculture is “surging in popularity worldwide,” while U.S. agricultural exports support more than 1 million jobs across the country. Fiscal years 2009 through 2012 generated more than $478 billion in agricultural exports, and 2013 agricultural exports remain on track to set new records. Overall, America's agricultural sector is playing a key role in helping to achieve President Obama's goal under the National Export Initiative of doubling exports by the end of 2014, USDA said.
Earlier this week, USDA announced Japan—the fourth largest agricultural export market for the United States—agreed to expand access for U.S. beef. Under these new terms, which enter into effect on Feb. 1, Japan will now permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age, compared to the previous limit of 20 months, among other steps. It's estimated that these important changes will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in exports of U.S. beef to Japan in the coming years. “This agreement also goes a long way toward normalizing trade with Japan by addressing long-standing restrictions that Japan introduced in response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),” USDA said.
USDA also provides support and services to numerous agriculture shippers. For example, in 2012, it helped conduct more than 110 trade shows around the world to support more than 1,000 U.S. companies make more than $500 million in on-site sales.
Along with other federal agencies, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service works to protect the health of America's agriculture and natural resources. Last year, APHIS negotiated and resolved 150 animal and plant health issues involving U.S. agricultural exports.
For instance, APHIS spearheaded a 6-month pilot program with China which established the resumption of log exports from Virginia and South Carolina, resulting in more than $1.5 million in U.S. hardwood log exports to China from those states. The pilot program was recently extended by China. “The pilot program signals renewed Chinese confidence in Virginia and South Carolina forestry exports,” USDA said.
The United States exported more than $7.7 billion in forestry products in 2011, supporting more than 65,000 jobs. During the first 11 months of 2012, U.S. log exports to China from all states reached nearly $730 million. Nearly 25 percent of those exports landed in China, the second largest market for U.S. timber. Seaports in Virginia and South Carolina handled more than half-a-billion-dollars in U.S. forestry exports in 2011, USDA said.
APHIS secured the release of 324 shipments of U.S. agricultural products detained at foreign ports, valued at more than $41 million. For example, the agency recently oversaw the release of seven grain shipments valued at $1.8 million from the port of Haiphong, Vietnam, and the agency continues to work with Vietnamese officials and the U.S. grain industry on a permanent fix that will keep exports moving efficiently to that market.
There are also about 170 Foreign Service officers in USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, staffing 98 offices covering 162 countries. U.S. farmers, ranchers, trade associations and private companies depend on FAS staff to guide them through export of their products. FAS provides reports on hot market prospects and offers expertise when trade barriers arise.
For example, FAS negotiated the release of hundreds of detained shipments in dozens of countries, valued at well over $60 million, and ranging from soybean meal in Latvia, to white zinfandel in the European Union, rice bran pellets in Norway, Massachusetts scallops in Spain, and U.S. meat and poultry products in Taiwan. FAS has also engaged China on a memorandum of understanding on soybean trade that prevented disruptions to over $12 billion of U.S. exports, and maintained market access for U.S. dairy—valued at over $432 million in 2012—by coordinating a draft dairy export certificate with the government of China.