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Dairy Facts 2016

Darci Vetter, Former USTR Chief Ag Negotiator, Urges Food Companies to Get Seats at the U.S. Trade Table

Mar 01, 2017
Ambassador Darci Vetter and Clay Hough, IDFA Senior Group Vice President and Counsel

Contact: Audra Kruse
(202) 220-3529

(March 1, 2017 – Dana Point, Calif.) In her keynote address to attendees of the International Sweetener Colloquium this week, Ambassador Darci Vetter, former chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, urged food and beverage companies that use sugar and sweeteners in their products and sugar providers to demand a seat at the table on trade negotiations in the new administration. The annual event, co-sponsored by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the Sweetener Users Association (SUA), drew more than 500 people from 10 countries to Dana Point, Calif.

“Communicate clearly to your government leaders your desire to help shape strong outcomes but also that you have an expectation that you will be part of an iterative process to shape those outcomes from the get-go,” Ambassador Vetter said. “Let them know you have data to share that can help them both precisely define the problem and craft a solution and that you’d like to be on the team to do it.”

Ambassador Vetter urged attendees to use this time of transition in the U.S. government to chart a course before the administration is ready to act. She encouraged them to reach out to international trading partners to reinforce trading commitments and continue to position their companies as members of the global economy. Noting that the sweetener industry would have been minimally affected by a successful Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, she said U.S. producers of protein-rich foods, including dairy, will be at a disadvantage as other countries covered by TPP begin to consume more protein and countries such as Australia and New Zealand could fill the void.

NAFTA Needs Improvement, Vetter Said

Ambassador Vetter also discussed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the several different outcomes that renegotiation, modernization or tweaking would have on the sweetener industry. She named a variety of areas that need improvement, including commitments to science-based decision-making and transparency, labor and environmental issues, intellectual property protections and the digital economy.

Her remarks kicked off a strong series of sessions that covered pressing issues for the sweetener industry. Several sessions focused on the U.S. sugar program, which consists of American sugar price supports, supply restrictions and import quotas. While there continued to be difference of opinion about the operation of the U.S. sugar program, especially given the uncertainty with Mexico, there was also growing recognition of the opportunities for collaboration within the sector and of challenges facing the entire industry on the demand side.

Over the course of the three-day program, 30 expert speakers and panelists also shared insight on Mexico and sugar trade, dairy and cocoa markets, alternative sweeteners, enlightened consumers, sustainability and other hot-button issues for sweetener users. In addition, Ron Brownstein, political director of the Atlantic Media Company and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, dissected the demographic, social and economic changes that are restructuring U.S. politics and outlined ways to move past a partisan impasse.

Uncertain Market

“This year’s program was as strong as we’ve ever had,” said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president and general counsel and SUA treasurer. “Sweetener users are seeking to understand the most fundamentally uncertain market in recent history. The colloquium was a timely help for the sector to cope with this very unprecedented situation.”

Rick Pasco, president of SUA, added, “This week’s International Sweetener Colloquium was a great opportunity for all segments of the sugar sector to come together to learn about the many challenges facing the industry. Questions regarding the status of the current sugar suspension agreements with Mexico were a focal point of discussion. It is clear that U.S. government policy has gone too far in limiting the supply of raw cane sugar needed to feed U.S. cane refineries. We look forward to working with the new administration to find solutions that will provide adequate supplies of sugar in our domestic market at reasonable prices."

The International Sweetener Colloquium has been hosted by IDFA and SUA for more than 30 years.

“Sugar and sweeteners are incredibly important to the dairy industry and are integral to many dairy products. IDFA is proud to host the International Sweetener Colloquium with SUA as an important part of our efforts to make access to these ingredients easier and more affordable for our member companies,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA president and CEO. “We’re also proud of the event’s long history of excellent coverage of sugar industry issues affecting all dairy and food companies.”

More than 500 industry professionals attended from the United States, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, the Netherlands, Uruguay and the United Kingdom, surpassing the level of attendance ever for this event.

Conference sponsors for the International Sweetener Colloquium include ADM; Cargill; Domino Foods, Inc.; Evergreen Sweeteners; Imperial Sugar Company; Ingredion; JSG Commodities; Sucro Sourcing; and Sugaright, a division of CSC Sugar.

The 2018 International Sweetener Colloquium will be held Feb. 11-14 at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes in Orlando, Fla.

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The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, with a membership of nearly 525 companies within a $125-billion a year industry. IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF), the National Cheese Institute (NCI) and the International Ice Cream Association (IICA). IDFA's nearly 200 dairy processing members run more than 600 plant operations, and range from large multi-national organizations to single-plant companies. Together they represent more than 85 percent of the milk, cultured products, cheese, ice cream and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States.

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