By KEVIN WALKER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trade is an important topic for the U.S. Grains Council (USGC); in fact, trade is really the reason the group exists. That’s why it came as especially good news early this month when Congress passed an extension of programs that fund its export trade promotion activities.
Those activities are funded mainly through the Market Assessment Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program. Congress has passed an extension of MAP and FMD appropriations through the end of fiscal year 2013, which runs through Sept. 30.
The USGC said in a statement earlier this month the prospects for a new farm bill in the 113th Congress are uncertain. “The good news is that export promotion initiatives, including MAP and FMD, enjoy broad bipartisan support,” the statement said.
MAP and FMD cooperators include not only the USGC but also the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Both groups employ staff around the world to encourage and promote U.S. agricultural exports. These programs also affect the National Corn Growers Assoc. as well as its state-level affiliates.
In an interview late in November 2012, USGC CEO and President Tom Sleight said the USGC gets about $15 million a year for its activities. He explained his group can keep its offices open through the end of this month without new money, but after that it would, in his words, have to make some “tough choices.”
Those same sentiments were echoed a month later by USGC Chair Don Fast, after Congress had still failed to resolve its “fiscal cliff” issues.
“It will affect our overseas staff; we have nine offices overseas,” Fast said on Dec. 20. “MAP and FMD funds that, so we can operate for a couple of months, into 2013. But if nothing’s done, after that it’s like closing offices and layoffs. It affects U.S. wheat and all the other export marketing associations, as well as U.S. Grains Council, which deals with corn, sorghum and barley.”
According to the latest USGC statement, Congress is still deadlocked over the farm bill’s big-ticket items, including the major nutrition, commodity and crop insurance programs.
“MAP and FMD are among a broad range of relatively uncontroversial farm bill programs that are caught in the crossfire,” the statement said. “But that does not lessen the impact of uncertainty on cooperators, including the U.S. Grains Council, that utilize these programs to build and defend global markets for U.S. agricultural products.”
Although the group says it can’t lobby for the programs that fund it, it can and does work with other organizations to spread the word about how much value the USDA’s export programs bring to the overall U.S. trade picture. And promoters of domestic agriculture are quick to point out the ag sector is indeed a bright spot in that frame.
“MAP and FMD are part of a proven public-private partnership that has helped make the United States the world’s top agricultural exporter,” the USGC stated. “Both global markets and global competition are growing rapidly. The future is bright, provided that we are prepared to compete to win the battle for export share.”