U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Trade Ambassador and Congressman Thompson Meet with Wine Industry Leaders
By Steven Knudsen, Sonoma County Farm Bureau
Congressman Mike Thompson hosted a round table discussion with U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman & U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and local leaders from the wine industry on November 17 at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.
The meeting highlighted the importance of wine exports as part of American trade and additionally, highlighted how new technology is helping streamline winemaking, facilitating trade and increasing the amounts wineries who are able to export overseas.
“We appreciate Congressman Thompson’s continuing support for the wine community. Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Representative Michael Froman actively participated in the Round Table discussion that included international trade barriers and domestic regulatory partnership opportunities,” said Carolyn Wasem, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Director. “The speakers provided valuable insight and detailed next steps for the wine community to consider.”
Congressman Thompson, D-St. Helena, said the meeting was a great opportunity to meet about things that the government can do to assist the wine industry in exporting more of its product.
“Wine makers in Sonoma and Marin Counties have a great track record of exporting wine from our area,” said Thompson. “They make the best wine in the world and they are ready to export even more.”
In February of 2013, The Wine Institute, based in San Francisco, reported that wine exports had grown for the third consecutive year reaching $1.43 billion, up 2.6% compared to the previous year. California wineries, account for about 90 percent of U.S. wine exports.
Vilsack attributed the increase in exports of wine in the last few years in part because of free trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia. He also pointed to potentially expanding the export market through working with the U.S. Trade Ambassador’s office.
U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman stressed the government’s goal of reducing trade tariffs through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
“We are currently focusing on the TPP with 11 other counties, including Japan and Vietnam both who have tariffs on wine, 15% in Japan and more than that in Vietnam, said Froman. “When the government has negotiated the reduction of tariffs in other countries we have seen California wine exports grow dramatically.”
Local winery representatives stressed their concern of the Canadian Government’s threat to impose a tariff on wine if the U.S. didn’t revise or revoke Country of Origin Labeling laws (COOL) for Canadian products. Canada is the second largest market for California wines ($434 million) behind the European Union ($483 million).
Additionally, the group spent time discussing the Farm Bill and immigration reform.
“I wanted to underscore the need for us to get a food, farms and jobs bill passed this congress so we can continue to fund these valuable trade agreements,” said Vilsack. “Immigration reform is an incredibly import part of the Farm Bill.
Steve Dutton, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Director, was happy to hear that the panel was discussing a number of issues including immigration reform that are important to agriculture in the North Coast.
“They all felt that passing the Farm Bill, mitigating for immigration reform and balancing the budget needed to get done in Congress.” said Dutton. “All three aspects are very important to the agriculture community.”
For U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman, a native of Marin County, the trip to Napa reminded him of the trips he enjoyed with his family when he was younger.
“It was great to hear form the wine industry leaders in terms of what they are looking for us to do in terms of opening markets for their exports, leveling the playing field to make sure that other countries don’t put up regulatory barriers to California wine exports,” said Froman. “It’s important for us to work closely with USDA on trade promotion programs that effectively support this industry.”
Prior to his appointment, Vilsack served two terms as the Governor of Iowa, in the Iowa State Senate and as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vilsack was born into an orphanage and adopted in 1951. After graduating Hamilton College and Albany Law School, he moved to Mt. Pleasant, his wife Christie's hometown, where he practiced law.
Vilsack echoed Forman’s thoughts on the meeting.
“This was an opportunity for me to learn about what we at USDA can do to become an even better partner with the wine industry in California in terms of exports,” said Vilack.