Panel supports USDA undersecretary of trade position

Recognizing the growing importance of trade to U.S. agriculture and the complexities of trade, Congress in the 2014 farm bill mandated that the USDA establish an undersecretary of Trade to focus on trade-related issues.

This would elevate the importance of trade and give greater coordination of trade efforts at the USDA. The last time the trade functions of the USDA were reorganized was in 1978. The National Academy of Public Administration was directed in the 2015 agricultural appropriations bill to submit a report to the USDA that includes an assessment of options to create an undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. The Academy’s panel of experts’ recent report, “Advancing U.S. Agricultural Trade: Reorganizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” recommends that the USDA restructure and create a new undersecretary of Trade as mandated in the farm bill.

The report recommends a preferred option of how the USDA should restructure, including creating three new undersecretaries. This is not an increase in the number of undersecretaries (currently seven), but a reorganization and name changes. The new undersecretaries and areas of jurisdiction are:

  • Trade and Market Development includes the Foreign Agricultural Service; all the components of the Agricultural Marketing Service that support trade through market development, including quality standards and product differentiation, in their entirety; and the Federal Grain Inspection Service.
  • Health and Safety includes the Food Safety Inspection Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
  • Farm Services and Risk Management includes the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency, as well as the Packers and Stockyards Program and the purely domestic components of the Agricultural Marketing Service, both of which would be incorporated within the FSA.

The panel also recommended that the new undersecretary of Trade have various qualifications. These include:

  • Senior-level experience in developing and implementing U.S. international agricultural trade policy and programs.
  • Understanding of issues that affect agricultural trade, especially non-tariff barriers, such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
  • Demonstrated skill in facilitation and brokering among agencies and external stakeholders with different perspectives and interests.
  • Proven track record in leading change and long-term strategic planning

The report recommends the USDA begins the reorganization now with the new trade position implemented in the next administration.

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