The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) has announced the recipients of its Michael J. Mansfield Award and Distinguished Service Award. Both will be presented at the USMEF 40th Anniversary & Strategic Planning Conference, Nov. 2-4 in Carlsbad, California.
The 2016 Mansfield Award recipient is Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). The award is presented in honor of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Michael J. Mansfield, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree whose five decades of government service formed the foundation for advancement of U.S. trade relations throughout the world.
USMEF’s Distinguished Service Award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the pursuit of USMEF’s export goals. This year’s honoree is Mark Gustafson, a longtime meat industry leader and international trade specialist. Prior to launching the consulting firm Gustafson & Associates, he spent 38 years working to advance red meat exports for JBS, Swift and Company, ConAgra International, USMEF and Monfort of Colorado.
Vetter is the U.S. government’s lead agricultural negotiator in all multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations, where she has spearheaded efforts to eliminate trade barriers and advance trade liberalization. In this role, she was a lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership – an agreement that includes very favorable terms for the U.S. beef and pork industries. Vetter also played a key role at USTR earlier in her career, where she was responsible for facilitating NAFTA implementation and resolving agricultural trade issues with Mexico and Canada. Between her terms at USTR, Vetter helped advance agricultural trade at USDA and as a Senate Finance Committee staff member.
Being honored with the Michael J. Mansfield Award struck a chord with Vetter on several levels.
“I first became familiar with Mike Mansfield’s career when I worked for Sen. Max Baucus, a fellow Montanan,” she said. “When you work in the international trade arena, you look to people who were true statesmen and who knew how to build and foster relationships for the long haul. So receiving the Mansfield Award is an honor in itself, but the fact that it’s coming from USMEF is tremendous. I have so enjoyed working with USMEF – whether it’s with their senior staff in Denver, the overseas directors or their great economists, USMEF really helps connect the dots for those of us in government so that we can figure out what the agreements and protocols that we negotiate on paper will actually mean in terms of our exporters’ commercial experience.”
Vetter added that USMEF is also an important resource when it comes to implementation and enforcement of trade agreements.
“USMEF can be our eyes and ears on the ground to tell us whether protocols and negotiations that we’ve completed are actually working,” she explained. “They help us identify problems before they become major trade issues, so we see USMEF as a critical partner, and a very reliable one, to help us get all the details right.”
Throughout his career, Gustafson has been active in addressing trade barriers and shaping the meat industry’s approach to international marketing. He has chaired the USMEF Exporter Committee and served on the USMEF Executive Committee, the Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee for Animals and Animal Products, the USDA Advisory Committee for Meat and Poultry Inspection and the North American Meat Institute’s Trade Committee.
“I started to get involved in international trade in the late 1970s and early 1980s, almost from the inception of USMEF,” Gustafson said. “So having worked in the export field for so long and with so many outstanding industry leaders, it’s truly a great honor to be recognized by them and to be selected for the Distinguished Service Award.”
As a longtime champion of global market access for U.S. meat, Gustafson said it is gratifying to look back at the strides the industry has made over the past four decades.
“Keep in mind that in those early days, many of these markets were closed in one fashion or another,” he said. “Japan, for example, was still state-traded and wasn’t truly an open market. In Mexico there were licensing programs – each country had some sort of structural impediment that didn’t allow us free market access. So I felt that I could contribute to the meat industry’s growth and success by focusing on gaining meaningful access to these key markets.”
Looking to the future, Gustafson sees opportunities for further export growth – not only because of the growing population and buying power in foreign countries, but also due to changes in the product needs of international customers.
“As labor becomes more expensive in the international markets, I believe there will be an opportunity to do more processing back here in the United States and deliver a more user-friendly product to the global marketplace,” he explained. “That’s one area where I would like to see the U.S. industry increase its focus and capitalize on key growth opportunities in the future.”