U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Philip Seng says the new administration should be prepared to try a new approach to improving trade relations with key U.S. export markets, and not shy away from using different tactics to achieve results.

While U.S. pork exports have excelled so far in 2008, he cautioned attendees at USMEF’s annual strategic planning conference recently in Denver, that coming months might see fallout from the softening global economy.

With eight months of export data, U.S. pork exports have already set a 17th-consecutive annual record in 2008. Through August, pork exports were up 71% in volume and 64% in value over 2007, and set a new, single-month record with $452 million of pork exported in July alone.

However, with the expected lull in sales, it’s up to the industry to “create our own weather,” says Seng.

“Red meat exports are one of our avenues to prosperity,” he reports. “While there are countries suffering from depressed economies and devalued currencies, people in Japan, for example, have $5.5 trillion in personal savings, and banks in Japan and China have $1.5 trillion and $1.9 trillion, respectively in foreign currency balances. Our export industry could take a page from Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks, replied ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ The money is in these key export markets.”

To help bolster meat exports, Seng recommended the new administration consider several steps:

Create a new sub-cabinet level position with responsibility for all trade-related issues to drive USDA’s export agenda through trade negotiations and promotional programs.

Redefine the industry-government partnership. Closer consultations between the Agriculture Department and its cooperators could have facilitated the reopening of international markets after the mad cow disease announcement.

Try a new approach to funding export market development. Launch an export initiative that would be used solely for collecting and administering funds to develop international markets. Exporters would contribute these funds to USDA, which would allocate them in combination with USDA funds to export industry groups based on their performance.

Ensure that political appointments are based on credentials. Too often, these appointees lack international experience, resulting in problems in reopening markets to U.S. exports, and in working with trade partners in general.

USMEF Leader Stresses Communication
Jon Caspers, new chairman of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), is focused on improving communications with the wide range of producers and industry sectors that comprise the USMEF.

“We have to continue to tell the story of trade and inform producers all across the country about how it influences their bottom line,” he explains. “We have a great story to tell. But we just have to make sure they’re informed about that because the ongoing support for the activities that really build this industry – that really build trade – comes from them.”

Caspers operates a 13,000-head, nursery-to-finish hog operation in Swaledale, IA. He says U.S. agriculture must continue to recognize the benefits of trade because it represents such a key part of the agricultural industry and the national economy.

“The overall trend of trade making up a bigger part of the economy is absolutely going to continue,” he says. “If we step back from that or falter, we’re going to lose. We need to continue to promote exports and participate in those markets, because it’s only going to speed the recovery here and across the globe.”

Indiana pork producer Danita Rodibaugh was named secretary-treasurer of the USMEF. Her family produces grain and purebred hogs near Rensselaer, IN.