USDA officials provide guidance on trade aid program | TheFencePost.com

USDA officials provide guidance on trade aid program

Two Agriculture Department officials last week provided members of the United Fresh Produce Association some guidance on how USDA will handle its new responsibilities to buy farm products and promote them under the trade aid program that the Trump administration has announced to help producers hurt by the tariffs that other countries have imposed on U.S. farm products in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Summers noted that AMS already buys $3 billion of food each year for federal nutrition programs, including school feeding programs and food banks, and will buy another $1.2 billion under the Food Purchase and Distribution Program funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation.

The difference between AMS's usual purchase programs and the trade aid purchases is that AMS will handle more fresh products such as fruits and vegetables.

Summers said that food banks are "excited" about receiving the fresh products and have invested in refrigeration so that the items can be distributed while they are still fresh.

Mark Slupek, the deputy administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service Office of Trade Programs, said that the "best thing" that can be achieved with the $200 million in additional money for the trade promotion programs will be opening new markets in places that are not buying U.S. farm and food products.

Slupek said that rules under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, from which the new money will flow, give a preference for working with groups which have "the broadest representation." That means FAS will work with national commodity promotion organizations and co-ops, not state groups, he said.

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Slupek said the money can be used as matching funds under formulas for TV and radio advertising, social media, point-of-sale materials, travel to trade shows, and hiring temporary workers at trade shows.

The money can also be used to pay legal fees to address trade issues, Slupek said.

Applications must be submitted by Nov. 2 and funding announcements will be made in January.