A burgeoning trade relationship with Vietnam is largely due to USDA programs promoting U.S. agriculture. On Wednesday morning, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to reporters from Vietnam following a day of meetings with government officials and trade “cooperators.”

Vietnam, responsible for around $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion in agricultural exports, “is growing at a fairly significant rate. It’s now (the United States’) fifteenth (ranked) trading partner.”

During a visit with his Vietnamese counterpart, Vilsack said he’d “discussed the important role biotechnology will play as we deal with food security issues.”

Also, a discussion with “a number of cooperators assisting us in Vietnam and the region in expanding economic and trade opportunities for U.S. products” was “particularly timely since, today, we’re announcing FY 2011 market development funds allocated through the Market Assistance Program and Foreign Market Development Program. These are two key programs the USDA uses to promote the American brand of product around the world.

“We’re announcing grants in the amount of approximately $213 million that will support more than 70 U.S. agricultural organizations to expand commercial export opportunities.”

For more on Vilsack's trip, see here.

Vilsack claimed an independent study of the marketing programs “has suggested this one of the reasons we’ve seen a market increase in agricultural exports. That independent study found that for every dollar invested … exports are increased by $35.”

The cooperators, said Vilsack, explained the marketing programs have had an “important role in helping to expand soybean and soybean meal opportunities in Vietnam and the region. We’ve heard from those representing … apple production” in the U.S. Northwest.

On Thursday, Vilsack heads to China to participate in the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade where officials will take on “a variety of ag issues.”

A USDA press release regarding the trade programs was released following Vilsack’s press conference. It reads:

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the USDA is investing in approximately 70 U.S. agricultural organizations to help expand commercial export markets for their goods. Vilsack made the announcement during a conference call with reporters from Vietnam, where he is meeting with officials to help strengthen trade relations in the Asia Pacific region.

"’Under the Obama Administration, USDA has continued to expand markets for American goods abroad, worked aggressively to break down barriers to trade, and assisted U.S. businesses with the resources needed to reach consumers around the world,’ said Vilsack. ‘The funding announced today will ensure that U.S. agriculture remains a bright spot in America's economy and a driving force behind export growth, job creation, and our nation's competitiveness.’

“USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) allocated $213 million for export promotion activities through two USDA international market development programs: the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) and the Market Access Program (MAP). USDA's international market development programs have had a significant and positive impact on U.S. agricultural exports. An independent study released in 2010 found that for every $1 expended by government and industry on market development, U.S. food and agricultural exports increase by $35.

“Currently, the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion -- exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion -- and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.9 billion. USDA also forecasts that new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama will add an additional $2.3 billion to the farm economy and support about 20,000 American jobs.

“Under FMD, FAS will allocate a total of $29.7 million to 24 trade organizations that represent U.S. agricultural producers. The organizations, which must contribute a minimum 50 percent cost share toward the program, will conduct activities that help maintain or increase demand for U.S. agricultural commodities overseas. Under MAP, FAS will provide $183 million to 67 nonprofit organizations and cooperatives. MAP participants must contribute a minimum 10 percent match for generic marketing and promotion activities and a dollar-for-dollar match for promotion of branded products by small businesses and cooperatives.

“In Vietnam today, Vilsack met with representatives from some of the U.S. agricultural organizations benefitting from these programs. He also spoke with Vietnamese officials and talked with students at the Hanoi University of Agriculture. Next he will travel to China as part of the Obama administration's delegation for the 22nd Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), where he also plans to meet with additional U.S. agricultural organizations benefitting from USDA's international market development efforts.

“For a complete listing on allocations, visit here and here.”