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New trade undersecretary not likely in 2016

Sec. Vilsack likely will leave, creating position of new undersecretary for trade for next Administration.

The 2014 farm bill called for the creation of an undersecretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, but it seems that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack does not plan to push full steam ahead to complete the task before leaving with the Administration later this year.

The farm bill gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture 180 days from the time of its signing, which was Feb. 7, 2014, to come up with a plan for creating a new agency to be led by a newly created position with the title undersecretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Implementation is required within a year, according to the farm bill.

During a press conference earlier this week, Vilsack said Congress has ordered multiple studies on the undersecretary position's creation and allocated another $1 million for studies. Vilsack said the task is not as easy as simply creating something new as it involves taking a look at a number of multiple mission areas and determining how to make appropriate changes if it is marketing, regulatory or strictly trade focused.

The Foreign AgriculturalService is the agency that deals with trade issues at USDA and falls under the purview of the undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. Many different agencies, including the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and potentially the Chief Economist’s Office within USDA, have international and trade components. Merging all of them into one new mission area is extremely complicated and time-consuming, Vilsack said.

He said with the significant impact the new post will have on the next Administration, the action that makes the most sense is to “do all preparatory work and let the new secretary implement it in a way that works best for them.”

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