Trade is on the agenda for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this week as he travels to Brussels, Luxembourg City, Paris and Dublin to meet with agriculture and trade officials to discuss the expansion of agricultural trade and the importance of agriculture's role in the U.S.-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The EU is the world's largest importer of food and agricultural products, but the U.S. market share is shrinking because U.S. producers and exporters continue to face trade barriers.
"The negotiation of the TTIP offers a major opportunity to address these barriers and expand market access for U.S. farmers and ranchers," Vilsack commented.
Since 2009, nearly one-third of U.S. economic growth has been due to exports, USDA says. America has seen record agricultural exports over the past five years, as agricultural exports alone reached a record $140.9 billion and supported nearly one million jobs in the United States last fiscal year.
U.S. agricultural exports have set a new record every year for the past five years, totaling $619 billion between 2009 and 2013. They are projected to reach another record of $149.5 billion in fiscal year 2014, according to the USDA.
"The agricultural sectors in both the U.S. and the EU stand to benefit from a strong TTIP agreement," Vilsack said. "Reducing barriers to trade in the agreement will be especially beneficial to the small and medium-sized businesses that are the backbone of our respective economies."
In Luxembourg City, Vilsack will address the agriculture ministers from the 28 EU member states. Vilsack plans to emphasize to his European counterparts the importance of agriculture leaders' involvement in TTIP negotiations and will urge them to share their expertise with trade negotiators to develop an ambitious TTIP agriculture package, USDA said.
In Brussels, Vilsack will meet with EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, and EU Parliament Agriculture Committee Chairman Paolo de Castro. He will also meet with Brussels-based U.S. business interests at the American Chamber of Commerce.
While in Paris, Vilsack will address French food and agricultural stakeholders, emphasizing that U.S. and French farmers share more commonalities than differences. He will also meet with Bernard Vallat, director of the World Animal Health Organization, and Stéphane Le Foll, France's minister of agriculture.
Finally, Vilsack will travel to Ireland, where he will meet with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and accompany Coveney on a tour of Irish beef and dairy farms.