January 17, 2017

Vilsack Has Clear Vision for USDEC Role

 |  By: Mike Opperman

On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack offered insights into his new position as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Because the dairy industry relies so heavily on export markets to soak up surplus dairy production and support milk prices, Vilsack has an important role leading the organization most responsible for ensuring strong trade markets for U.S. products.

“We have three goals: we want to secure additional access for dairy products overseas, increase demand for dairy products and facilitate sale of dairy products,” he said. “We have some interesting and challenging times. Lower prices have put strain on dairy producers but producers continue to be best in the world at producing a wide array of dairy products. We are going to continue to see increased demand for those products.”

Two of our most important trading partners are those with which we share borders. Canada has come under fire recently for allegations of trade barriers that have had a negative impact on the ability of U.S. companies to access that market.  “Certainly there has been a lot of discussion and concern expressed about the situation in Canada and I think there is a growing awareness that we need to be focused on this,” Vilsack said. “I’ve had conversations with Canadian officials and I’m sure the incoming administration will have conversations with Canadian officials about this.”

Regardless of the market, for Vilsack it’s more about establishing a level playing field. “We want an open market. We want a competitive market. We’re happy to compete. We just simply want a level playing field,” he said. “We know that with the safety of the product we produce, the sustainability with which we produce it, the reliable supply and the innovation we possess that we can compete with anyone as long as the rules are the same and as long as the rules allow for greater access so we can compete.”

On our southern border trade relations with Mexico have been strained due to a number of factors, including the Trump administration’s stance on immigration. “We’ve seen over the course of the last year or so slight decline overall in terms of Mexican sales so we want to make sure that we maintain a relationship that has been a solid relationship for the American dairy industry,” Vilsack said. “Part of that is paying attention with folks and building a relationship. And continuing to promote and continuing to market effectively the benefits of doing trade with U.S. dairy.”

Speaking of the Trump administration, the President-elect has made it well known that he’s not a fan of free trade agreements and plans to change existing agreements and halt pending ones. Part of the challenge for Vilsack will be working across party lines on trade relations. “One of the advantages of my former job was to work in a bipartisan way with members of Congress to make sure we got Farm Bills passed and make sure we were sensitive to the needs of rural America and specifically the farming community.

“We all share a common goal to promote American products because we believe that we can be very competitive. We have a great product to sell – a wide variety of products to sell. We think there is unlimited opportunity,” Vilsack said. “Our focus needs to be on the end result which is more exports. Because more exports stabilize prices and create jobs. And I don’t think anyone disagrees with that formula.”

Regardless of where U.S. products are marketed, Vilsack said focusing on the consumer is critical to securing and gaining market share. “Our goal is to work with our customers so they understand the full scope of what is available so we need to continue to listen and understand what the demands of their customer base are,” he said. “Throughout the entire industry we have to be increasingly sensitive to the demands of the consumer so that we are always working in concert with consumer demands. “

Secretary Vilsack also was on AgriTalk Tuesday. Listen to that conversation below.

What is your viewpoint on Vilsack’s new role? To express your opinion send an email to Mike Opperman at [email protected]