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Former USDA secretary becomes new USDEC CEO and aims to ‘aggressively market’ US dairy worldwide

Mary Ellen Shoup

By Mary Ellen Shoup+

18-Jan-2017
Last updated on 18-Jan-2017 at 10:23 GMT2017-01-18T10:23:57Z

Tom Vilsack will take over as the new CEO of USDEC where he says he will prioritize and increase US dairy exports.
Tom Vilsack will take over as the new CEO of USDEC where he says he will prioritize and increase US dairy exports.

Former USDA secretary Tom Vilsack will be leading USDEC as its new president and CEO, and has said he will be dedicating much of his time to increasing dairy exports while breaking down trade barriers that would hinder the US dairy industry.

Vilsack will succeed Tom Suber, who served as president of USDEC since its founding in 1995, and retired at the end of 2016. Under Suber, global US dairy exports grew from roughly 5% of US milk production to 15.5%.

In a media teleconference call Vilsack fielded questions about how USDEC would handle trade policies, maintain and improve existing trade relations with countries such as Mexico, and how the council will work with the new presidential administration.

“The key here is focus on the end product which is more exports, stabilize prices, and to create jobs,” Vilsack said during the call.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees with that formula.”

Vilsack also said that he is prohibited from having any direct contact with the USDA for the next two years.

Global marketing of American dairy

Vilsack said that the US has a distinct advantage in dairy exports by communicating and marketing itself as the safest, most affordable, and sustainably-made dairy products available as consumers become increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from.

“We obviously have the safest and most sustained supply of dairy products in the world. We can sell and market our steady and reliable supply,” he said.

“It’s about building the relationship and continuing to promote aggressively the benefits of US dairy and making sure that we are sensitive to the consumer demands so that we can adjust accordingly and then market very aggressively.”

Identifying and breaking down trade barriers

When asked how USDEC would handle potential roadblocks to dairy exports from the US, such as Canada incentivizing domestic dairy products instead of imports from the US, which are highly taxed, Vilsack responded said that is the role of the council to help identify and break down those barriers while maintaining an open and competitive market.  

“We’re going to have to do everything we can to break those barriers down and at the same time I think we also have to be very responsive to consumer demands as they exist throughout the world and be very sensitive to those demands as they are changing,” he said.

Maintaining and strengthening existing relationships

Vilsack also addressed how the council would continue to maintain and further its trade relationships with Mexico, which has steadily increased its purchases from the US dairy industry.

“We want to make sure we maintain a relationship that’s been a solid relationship for the dairy industry in America. I think part of that is basically you’ve got to pay attention to folks,” Vilsack said.

“You’ve got to spend some time with folks building and maintaining the relationship. Continuing to promote and continuing to market effectively the benefits of doing trade with US dairy.”

Outlook on new presidential administration

Vilsack said that vice president-elect Mike Pence in particular is aware of the importance of US dairy domestically and from an export perspective.

“Agriculture is one of the shining stars when it comes to our trade relationships, we’ve had a surplus in agricultural trade for the rest of the world last 50 years and it is something we do celebrate as something that does help to stabilize prices and certainly helps to create jobs,” he said. 

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