IN the 1980s, at a time when the farm crisis drove out many farmers, Darci Vetter's family in Nebraska found foreign markets to sustain the family business. Today, that business has nearly 30 employees, thanks in part to open and reliable overseas markets.
Vetter has been tapped to become chief agricultural negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative, and her farm background and zeal for helping farmers accomplish more on the world market will be indispensable with the ambitious trade agenda ahead.
It's almost a rarity in today's bureaucracy to find someone with an agricultural background in a position to do so much good. A total of 97 farm and food organizations endorsed Vetter's nomination.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) said Vetter has an impressive background, including first working on agricultural trade issues at USTR, then at the Senate Finance Committee and now at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Johanns said during his time as USDA secretary, Vetter helped create a successful partnership between USTR and USDA, and he's confident that she'll once again be a "bridge builder and great asset to USTR and to U.S. agriculture in general."
Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) said Vetter "is the right person at the right time," and Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) called her a "fierce advocate for farmers and ranchers."
During a Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing May 8, Vetter said she has been actively involved in ongoing trade negotiations with Japan, and the pace is picking up. 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.
Still, she said Japan won't be able to have any total product exclusions for the five sensitive products it has tried to lay out, including rice, wheat, barley, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar.
Vetter said the goal is to seek tariff elimination on all goods and to go line by line with trading partners to provide the best and fullest market access agreement possible for agriculture.
(The U.S. never has agreed to allow a trading partner to exempt as many tariff lines as the 586 Japan is requesting.)
During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing May 7, Vetter's departure from her USDA post as deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services also was discussed with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The 2014 farm bill calls for a study due at the beginning of August on instituting a new undersecretary of trade and foreign development at USDA. Johanns said so much of what he did when he led USDA was trade related, and "I would have given anything to have this in place."
Vilsack agreed about the importance of the post and said it's timely, given Vetter's anticipated departure. However, many different divisions of USDA touch on trade, so Vilsack said the restructuring needs to be done the right way, and he doesn'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, and Vetter said she believes there is much more to accomplish. Her USTR appointment and the potential new undersecretary post at USDA can help open up more markets for U.S. farm products.