In call, Vilsack declines to discuss Ukraine war impact
In a wide-ranging call to reporters on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to discuss what impact a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have on the grain markets or U.S. exports.
“The reality is: We are dealing with hypotheticals right now,” Vilsack said in a call from Dubai, where he was leading a trade mission and attending the first Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) ministerial meeting. Vilsack said that diplomacy should be given a chance to work.
Three days earlier, however, Vilsack told the Associated Press that a conflict in Ukraine would present an “opportunity, obviously, for us to step in and help our partners, help them through a difficult time and situation.”
During the Monday call, Vilsack emphasized the success of both the trade mission and the meetings about climate change.
On this first U.S. agricultural trade mission in two years due to COVID-19, Vilsack said that he had been impressed that 25 companies, six cooperator groups and eight state departments of agriculture had made the trip with him. A number of the companies were minority-, veteran- or woman-owned and had not exported before. There were 71 buyers from multiple countries, and more than 300 business meetings were held, he added. But Vilsack said it was too early to tell exactly how much business had been generated.
Asked about criticism from farm leaders and some Republicans that the Biden administration is not taking enough action on trade, Vilsack said he was “puzzled by the skepticism” because U.S. agricultural sales last year were the highest on record, and even bigger sales are expected this year.
He also noted there is more trade activity with India and Vietnam and pointed out the U.S. victory against Canada on a dairy issue.
“We understand and appreciate the importance of trade,” Vilsack said, but it is also important to rebuild the trust of Americans in trade.
On the AIM for Climate project, which the United States and the United Arab Emirates launched at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Vilsack noted that the partners announced $4 billion in increased investment from public- and private-sector partners for climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation, but that in Dubai more than 30 government officials involved set a goal of doubling that investment to $8 billion by November 2022 at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
AIM for Climate welcomed seven new government partners – Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, the European Commission, Guyana, Mozambique, Turkey – bringing the total to 40, Vilsack said.
“AIM for Climate government partners today demonstrated their strong commitment to work together to close the investment gap in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation, needed to address the twin challenges of global hunger and the climate crisis,” Vilsack said in a news release. “We are proud of the wide range of AIM for Climate partners working to deliver impactful solutions for all people. AIM for Climate seeks to expand its network even farther with new participants from across the globe. The United States looks forward to welcoming all AIM for Climate partners to Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2023 for the AIM for Climate Summit to review our progress and chart out the important work ahead.”
Vilsack also said that AIM for Climate announced four focal areas for 2022 Innovation Sprints to be launched at COP27: smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, methane reduction, emerging technologies and agroecological research. In addition, AIM for Climate announced another path for partner involvement: AIM for Climate Ideations.
Asked about China’s decision to ban Canadian poultry due to avian influenza, Vilsack said that if China should propose banning U.S. poultry over bird flu, he would propose that the ban be imposed only on poultry from the section of the country in which the flu has been found.
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