Rep. Rosa DeLauro wants to know if USDA’s export promotion programs are working

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 25 – To make sure taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely, members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture called for proof that USDA’s export promotion programs are working and for doing everything possible to open new export markets.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, commented that “if we really want to increase our agriculture exports, one of the easiest ways to do it would be to open trade with our neighbor, Cuba. Fifty years and eleven presidents after setting up an embargo policy that has failed to change the political dynamic there, it seems time to shift U.S. policy toward greater engagement.” James Miller, USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, responded that “some strides have been made to make trade with Cuba easier but . . . the situation with Cuba is complex. . . but, yes, we believe there are significant agricultural opportunities in Cuba.”

More broadly, DeLauro asked Miller to provide data to show how well USDA’s current export promotion programs are working. Miller and other USDA officials promised to provide additional analysis and assured the committee that USDA’s current export programs will begin working even better if Congress approves the administration’s FY 2011 budget request for “an increase in discretionary spending of $53.5 million as part of the National Export Initiative.” DeLauro remained unconvinced, saying that “At the moment, we have zero information.”

Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) questioned the administration’s FY ’11 budget proposal to reduce spending on the export-promoting Market Access Program (MAP) “when you want to promote exports.” Miller responding by agreeing that MAP is a successful program offering a high return on every dollar spent. But that he said that overall, the administration plans to increase export program funding through “a variety of export promotion activities.” He said to offset USDA’s “modest cut” for MAP to $160 million, “the industries could and should probably be willing to put a little more of their money into the program.” He added that USDA needs to focus more of  its export efforts on programs which directly challenge other countries’ increasing use of unfair trade barriers “that are not based on science.”

Latham also asked USDA to push hard for signing the three stalled free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea “which would expand our markets dramatically.” Miller answered that “USDA has been supportive of concluding the negotiations on those three agreements” which he said offer “significant benefits to U.S. producers and exporters.” He added, however, that “some outstanding issues” need to be resolved first.

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