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Secretary Vilsack Arrives in Philippines for U.S. Trade Mission

On Saturday, I arrived in the Philippines for the first-ever USDA trade mission in Southeast Asia. The Philippines is a key market in the region for U.S. agricultural exports, with sales of over $1.77 billion in 2008, a record high, while U.S. agricultural imports from the Philippines reached $ 1.24 billion during the same period.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to learn more about the efforts of IRRI in addressing global food security through rice research. IRRI was established in 1960 and is the largest non-profit agricultural research center in Asia and is known as the home of the Green Revolution in Asia.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Philippines Secretary of Agriculture Yap and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney planting rice at the International Rice Research Institute

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Philippines Secretary of Agriculture Yap and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney planting rice at the International Rice Research Institute

For over three decades, the U.S. Government (USG) has been a major supporter of IRRI through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the coordinating organization through which funds for international agricultural research are administered to the 15 CGIAR centers around the globe.The USG has long viewed IRRI as a cornerstone of CGIAR because of the enormous contribution of rice to global food security, especially in Asia. IRRI is also a beneficiary of USDA and USAID support.

Today I spoke at the Trade Investment Mission on behalf of the USDA. USDA Trade and Investment Missions (TIMs) target emerging markets and free trade agreement (FTA) countries to promote two-way trade and investment. The mission provides U.S. participants with focused one-on-one meetings with host country business representatives. The mission also helps to identify business opportunities and address trade barriers. More than 20 U.S. agribusiness companies will participated in today’s TIM.

Before embarking on two site visits in the afternoon, I met with Philippines President Gloria Arroyo and Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Yap. During our meeting I announced plans for $8.5 million in international assistance under USDA’s Food for Progress Program for the Philippines in the aftermath of recent typhoons that have caused severe flooding in the country.

In the afternoon, I visited the Universal Robina Corporation’s (URC) Flour Milling Plant. The URC facility is only one of two fully automated flour milling plants in the Philippines. The URC Flour Division is one of the top flour millers in the Philippines and approximately 95 percent of all wheat used in this facility is from the United States.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with students at Sagad Elementary School

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with students at Sagad Elementary School

After my visit to the URC Flour Milling Plant, I traveled to Sagad Elementary School to deliver food to students who had been affected by the recent natural disasters in the region. I leave tomorrow for China where I will attend a meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) to discuss agricultural trade.

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