MILWAUKEE – The US Dairy Export Council’s president and chief executive officer, Krysta Harden, hammered home the importance of trade for the dairy industry during a keynote discussion at CheeseExpo 2022 on Wednesday, April 13, at the Wisconsin Center.

Harden thinks the US has an opportunity to lead the world in dairy exports, but also said “a disconnect” exists right now. The former US deputy secretary of agriculture said some from both sides of the aisle in Washington think trade is bad, and added she even has heard the same sentiment from some dairy farmers.

Nevertheless, Harden and the USDEC are banging the drum to a different tune when it comes to exports.

“We’ve got everything you want and need, and we’ve got a lot of it, and it’s the best in the world,” she said of the message.

With some of US dairy’s competitors having issues, such as production flattening in Europe and New Zealand, Harden said it is up to the US to take advantage of this moment.

“It includes demand growing for dairy and dairy protein and dairy products,” she said of the current circumstances, adding that the US needs to invest and “be bold” to take advantage. “And I believe we are.”

In the Americas beyond Mexico, which Harden described as a great partner for US dairy, she said the USDEC thinks significant potential exists in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Peru. The USDEC president and CEO also pointed to Northern Africa and the Middle East as another potentially exciting region for trade. The United Kingdom, she noted, also is an important market where US dairy could make inroads, given the amount of dairy and cheese that is imported there.

One significant issue for US dairy at the moment, Harden said, is the lack of trade agreements that are in the works. She said the USDEC is active on that front, working closely with the Biden administration and Congress at addressing gaps that exist for US dairy as the industry tries to compete with the rest of the world.

“Our competitors, unfortunately, have been much more aggressive,” she said. “And they've had much more favorable status in many of the key markets, even where customers will say (they) would prefer US products. But the tariffs are higher or there are other issues and barriers that are in the way.”

Of course, supply chain concerns caused by the pandemic also have complicated exporting for the dairy industry. Harden said USDEC leaders are actively trying to fix those problems, as well, by building awareness on what kind of impact it is having on the industry. Harden recently testified before Congress on the importance of US dairy exports, and she said USDEC members have visited the White House and worked with US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to further address the matter. She also said the USDEC works with its partners in shipping and trucking to try and resolve the supply chain problems for US dairy.

One of the reasons the USDEC puts in that type of work, Harden said, is because many small and midsized companies need the organization’s connections in foreign markets.

“We play the matching game sometimes for our members,” she said. “And I think that's one of the real beauties of US dairy, is the diversity of size, of location, of product, of bulk commodity and artisanal specialty cheeses that go into niche markets.”