ORLANDO, Feb. 1, 2017 - Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is raising concerns that President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade rhetoric is unsettling U.S. agricultural importers and that his restrictions on regulations could impede the implementation of the new GMO disclosure law.

In his first speech as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Vilsack urged members of the dairy industry to reach out to contacts in Mexico to reassure them that “we’re going to continue to be open for business.”

“Those relationships at the ground level, grassroots level … can oftentimes overcome any stormy seas that get created by comments coming from Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was supposed to have been in Washington on Tuesday for a meeting with Trump to discuss reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement but canceled the visit after Trump issued new demands that Mexico pay for extending the border wall. The two men have since talked by phone.

Vilsack also expressed concerns about Trump’s trade policy when he talked on the phone for about 30 minutes last week with Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. Vilsack said it was critical that Perdue communicate to the White House and other cabinet officials the importance of agricultural exports to the economy.

Tom Vilsack & Michael DykesVilsack said after the speech Tuesday at the International Dairy Food Association’s annual Dairy Forum, in Orlando, Florida, that he would be heading to Mexico himself at some point to reassure officials there.

Vilsack warned the industry that the executive order issued Monday requiring agencies to scrap two rules to make room for every new regulation could make it difficult for USDA to issue the GMO regulations.

“The rhetoric is going to meet the reality when it comes to this issue of regulations. I hope we do not make it more difficult to get that GMO labeling law in place,” he said.

The new administration has already slowed down the development of the regulations by returning to USDA an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) that is the first step in the administrative process of developing the new regulations. The ANPR has not been released but a former official familiar with it said it laid out more than 30 areas of discretion that Congress provided to USDA in implementing the law. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is expected to hold series of public meeting to gather input on the ANPR.

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Vilsack also appealed to the processors, producers, suppliers and other industry stakeholders attending the forum to be unified in working with policymakers on dairy industry concerns. He noted that there are a million beef producers to just 43,000 dairy farmers.

“We are challenged to really punch above our weight … If you’re talking to policy makers and dealing with the difference between a million and 43,000 you’ll see it creates a challenge,” Vilsack said. “It’s important and necessary for everyone in the supply chain that is impacted by dairy … to speak as best we can with a single unified voice.”