USMEF Members Examine Challenges ahead, Elect New Officer Team

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) concluded its Strategic Planning Conference in Tucson, Arizona, Friday with the election of new officers for 2017-2018. Dennis Stiffler, Ph.D., who has served in many volunteer leadership roles for USMEF, was elected USMEF chairman.

“This is a very exciting time for USMEF – we have an extremely engaged executive committee with a lot of talented people,” said Stiffler, who is president of the Texas Division, Halpern’s Steak and Seafood, headquartered in Atlanta. He recently retired as chief executive officer of Mountain States Rosen, a fabricator, processor and distributor of lamb and veal products. “Also, we are getting ready to embark on new executive leadership at USMEF, and it will be exciting to follow that transition through. It is going to be an important role for USMEF officers to play.”

Stiffler has 30 years of livestock, meat industry and international marketing experience, and spent 10 years at major universities involved in teaching, research and extension services. During his tenure in academia, Stiffler traveled abroad on numerous occasions representing both USMEF and the U.S. Grains Council in education and market development programs.

His first interaction with USMEF was back when he was on the faculty at Texas A&M University. He later held various positions in the red meat industry, including the export business. In 2010, as a member of the American Lamb Board, Stiffler was appointed to the USMEF Executive Committee.

“I believe it’s notable that in the 41-year history of USMEF, I am the first chairman representing the lamb sector,” said Stiffler. “I bring that background with me, along with my experience across the entire red meat industry. I was asked many times to go into international markets to work on technical aspects such as meat quality, production practices, product performance and food safety – giving me credibility in that area. “From a business standpoint, we are in the business of moving product into markets, and to do that you have to match science with consumer preferences.”

Stiffler lauded USMEF staff for its work at the Denver headquarters and in USMEF’s international offices. He also praised longtime USMEF CEO Philip Seng and Dan Halstrom, who succeeded Seng as USMEF president on Sept. 1 and will assume the title of president and CEO on Dec. 1.

“Phil has been a true leader and an icon in this industry, and we all owe him a great deal of gratitude,” said Stiffler. “I want to personally thank him for his leadership, his commitment, his passion for the international marketplace and his tireless dedication to this organization.”

Stiffler then introduced Halstrom, who thanked Seng and recalled their long relationship in the U.S. red meat industry.

“Phil’s tutelage, his guidance and his vison for this industry has been second to none,” said Halstrom, who then shared his thoughts about USMEF’s future opportunities and challenges.

Stiffler succeeds Bruce Schmoll, a corn and soybean producer from Minnesota, as USMEF chair.

Conley Nelson is the new USMEF chair-elect. Nelson is general manager of Smithfield Foods’ hog production division in the company’s five-state Midwest region and served as president of the National Pork Board in 2012-13. Serving as USMEF vice chair is Idaho cattle feeder Cevin Jones, who operates Intermountain Beef, a custom feedlot.

The newest USMEF officer is Secretary-Treasurer Pat Binger of Wichita, Kansas, who heads international sales for Cargill Protein Group. A 30-year Cargill employee, Binger first became involved with USMEF more than 25 years ago. He sees USMEF’s role in the export game as more vital than ever.

“The supply of red meat will continue to grow, so in order to benefit our industry we are going to need to export more product, and we fully expect to be able to do that,” said Binger. “For member companies, the many capabilities USMEF has are extremely important. I feel very good about being a part of this association.”

Friday’s closing business session also included a presentation titled “Spotlight on Brazil” in which panelists took an in-depth look at Brazil from several different angles – not only as a competing supplier of red meat, but also as a trading partner and a potential destination for U.S. beef, pork and lamb. (The Brazilian market recently reopened to U.S. beef but is currently closed to imports of U.S. pork and lamb.)

USMEF trade analyst Jessica Spreitzer presented a detailed overview and comparison of Brazil’s red meat production, consumption, exports and imports with that of the United States. Bob Macke, who leads the Office of Agreements and Scientific Affairs at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), addressed the broader U.S.-Brazil trading relationship, covering a range of agricultural sectors.

Otavio Migliorini, a native of Brazil who is a partner of PMI Foods operations while also serving as general manager of its South American division, focused on the challenges involved in doing business in Brazil, potential opportunities for U.S. beef and pork in the Brazilian market, and Brazilian consumers’ perceptions of U.S. meat products. Jessica Julca, USMEF’s South America representative based in Lima, Peru, highlighted the early promotional activities USMEF has conducted in the Brazilian market and previewed plans to expand promotions once more U.S. suppliers obtain clearance to ship product to Brazil. The panel was moderated by USMEF Technical Services Manager Cheyenne McEndaffer, who works closely with USMEF member companies to help them meet eligibility requirements in Brazil and other Latin American markets.

USMEF members also approved a resolution on market access for U.S. lamb – an amended version of a resolution originally adopted in 2012. It notes that U.S. lamb recently gained access to Taiwan and Guatemala but voices support for U.S. government efforts to negotiate access in key Asian and South American markets that remain closed due to issues related to transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).

The Strategic Planning Conference opened Wednesday with an address from Seng in which he discussed pressing issues affecting international meat trade, including the need for improved market access in key destinations such as Japan.

Seng explained that he fields many questions about the potential for a free trade agreement with Japan. While such an agreement is sorely needed, Seng doesn’t see U.S.-Japan negotiations anywhere on the horizon.

“The Japanese government has made it clear in its public statements that it doesn’t want to discuss an FTA with the United States at this point in time,” Seng said, noting that Japan is deeply involved in negotiations with the remaining participants in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is looking to eventually expand TPP to include other East Asian countries in the agreement. Japan also recently completed negotiations on an economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

Seng also previewed the upcoming 2018 World Meat Congress, a biennial event that USMEF will co-host with the International Meat Secretariat May 30-June 1 in Dallas. The World Meat Congress is the world’s premier gathering of beef, pork, lamb and veal industry leaders. The conference brings together producers, exporters, marketing specialists, policy analysts, economists and meat scientists to exchange ideas and experiences on key issues affecting the international meat and livestock sectors.

“Hosting the World Meat Congress allows us to extol the U.S. model for agriculture,” Seng said. “We have a science-based agricultural industry, and we embrace science, so this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our way of production and our way of food safety assurance.”

Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific, followed with a detailed overview of current market conditions and opportunities in China, which is a mainstay market for U.S. pork and recently reopened to U.S. beef.

Conference attendees also learned how the evolution of shopping and dining habits in key international markets is playing a major role in determining USMEF’s strategies for promoting U.S. red meat. Panelists included Taz Hijikata, USMEF senior manager for consumer affairs in Japan, Gerardo Rodriguez, USMEF director of marketing and trade development in Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic, and Jihae Yang, USMEF director in South Korea.

Thursday’s conference highlights included a look ahead at opportunities and challenges in the beef and pork exports markets, with CattleFax CEO Randy Blach leading a discussion that drew expertise from Binger and Jack Shao, Hormel Foods Corporation’s sales and marketing manager for Japan, Korea and international pork.

Anne Dawson, a senior trade advisor in her 19th year of service with FAS, received the USMEF Distinguished Service Award. The award recognizes an individual for leadership and lifetime contributions toward the achievement of USMEF’s export goals.

For more details on the conference, please visit www.usmef.org.

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