It’s almost a rarity in today’s bureaucracy to find someone with an ag background in a position to do so much good.
Nebraska farm girl Darci Vetter’s been tapped to become the chief agricultural negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative and her farm background, extensive political experience and zeal for helping farmers accomplish more on the world market will be indispensable in the ambitious trade agenda ahead.
In the 1980s at a time when many farmers were moving off the farm, Vetter’s family in Nebraska found foreign markets to sustain the family business. Some of the farm’s first foreign customers were tofu makers in Japan who were willing to pay a premium for the farm’s high quality soybeans. Today that family business has nearly 30 employees, in part from what Vetter said was due to open and reliable overseas markets.
A total of 97 farm and food organizations endorsed Vetter’s nomination, and rightfully so.
Former agriculture secretary Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said Vetter has an impressive background, including first working on agricultural trade issues at the U.S. Trade Representative, then at the Senate Finance Committee and now at USDA. Johanns said during his time as ag secretary, Vetter aided in a successful partnership between USTR and USDA, and he’s confident she’ll once again be a ‘bridge builder and great asset to USTR and to U.S. agriculture in general.”
Senate Finance chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, “Darci is the right person at the right time.”
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and also a member of the Finance Committee, added Vetter was a “fierce advocate for farmers and ranchers.”
During a Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing May 8, Vetter said that she’s been actively involved in ongoing negotiations with Japan and they are currently picking up pace. She said negotiators are working closely with Japan, stakeholders and members of Congress to identify what the best landing zones will be to provide the most ambitious trade deal possible.
But she said Japan won’t be able to have any total product exclusions for the five sensitive products they’ve tried to lay out including rice, wheat, barley, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar.
Vetter said the goal remains seeking tariff elimination on all goods with an objective of working with trading partners on going line-by-line to provide the best and fullest market access agreement possible for all of agriculture.
The United States never has agreed to allow a trading partner to exempt as many tariff lines as Japan is requesting – 586. In the 17 free trade agreements the United States has concluded since 2000, 233 tariff lines total have been exempted from having their tariffs go to zero.
The departure of Vetter from her USDA post as deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, also was discussed with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack during a Senate Ag hearing May 7. The farm bill called for a study into instituting a new undersecretary of trade and foreign development at USDA.
Johanns said so much of what he did while the head of USDA was trade related. “I would have given anything to have this in place,” he said.
Vilsack agreed of the importance of the post, and with the anticipated departure of Vetter, it’s timely. However, Vilsack said there are many different divisions of USDA that touch trade, and so the restructuring needs to be done in a way that’s right and he didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of an adequate assessment just to meet the August deadline.
U.S. food and agricultural exports reached an all-time high in 2013, accounting for $148 billion in exports, Vetter said she believes there is much more to accomplish. Her appointment and potentially new undersecretary post at USDA provides ag’s voice in opening up more markets for U.S. farm products.