ATLANTA ─ With the continued expansion of the pet food industry around the globe, pet food manufacturers have increasing opportunities to expand their distribution to markets beyond US borders. In 2022, the United States exported over $2 billion in pet food products, and according to Alexis Taylor, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, export growth for pet food will continue.

Pet food industry stakeholders attending the American Feed Industry Association’s Pet Food Conference on Jan. 30, held alongside the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, had the opportunity to talk trade with Taylor and Ambassador Doug McKalip, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The two made it clear to attendees that the primary objective of their agencies is to help US companies, including those in the pet food industry, find more trade opportunities abroad.

Ambassador McKalip explained that facilitating and expanding agricultural exports is truly a group effort between both the USTR and USDA offices. 

“The tie between the US Trade Representative’s office and the USDA is very strong and that’s important because USTR is involved in breaking down market access barriers whether they be tariffs or regulatory issues,” McKalip said. “And then, the USDA team can go in through promotion and help to make willing buyers and willing sellers come together.”

Taylor added, “I think that relationship is really critical between USDA and USTR at all levels… Trade is all about relationships ─ we always talk about it as a trading ‘relationship,’ and the same is true within our agencies.”

US agricultural trade has broken records since 2021, and agencies see no signs of that slowing.

“Next month, when the final trade numbers for 2023 come out, it’s set to be another very strong year. And US pet food exports are a really important part of our overall export picture,” Taylor explained. “We’ve seen a lot of growth over the past five years of a handful of US food exports around the world [including pet food].”

Canada, China and Mexico continue to be the top three markets for US exports. Sixty percent of overall food and ag exports go to China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union. And while the United States will continue to support those markets, there is a push toward diversification and expansion into emerging markets, Taylor explained. 

“We’re seeing changing demographic trends around the world, and because of that, I think we also need to broaden our emphasis in other parts and other regions around the world,” she said. “We are looking at how we can support you as an industry and a sector to really tap into some of those new market opportunities for growth. I think diversification is an important tool.”

In October 2023, the USDA announced a new program ─ Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP) ─ to invest $1.2 million over the next five years to help expand into growth markets. Some areas of the world in which the United States is seeing growing trade opportunities include Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia, in particular, is a significant growth region that offers export opportunities for US manufacturers. The area is seeing rapid gross domestic product growth and an expanding middle class economy. 

“And we know, as consumers are growing in that middle class, that they’re also thinking about their pets and their pets’ diets,” Taylor said. “I think that’s a great opportunity for our US pet industry.

“What we know is by getting into those markets early, we can build lifelong consumers of US food and ag products,” she added.

Pet food manufacturers still looking into exporting options can look to the USDA and USTR for tools, information and other ways to get involved. Pet food companies are invited to get involved in trade missions around the globe ─ both in person and virtually. In addition, the USDA supports a number of trade shows around the globe, in which US pet food companies are encouraged to participate.

Before entering the export arena, Taylor recommends learning about the market, the existing products and the consumers.  

“First and foremost, understand what the consumers are looking for ─ that’s one of the things we focus on during our trade missions,” Taylor explained. “We do market intelligence, bring in market experts from that area to help understand the market dynamics, and we look at products that are already out there.”

The USDA also offers reports on different markets around the world, including country spotlights, which include highlights on the regulatory environment in each country.

“That’s what we’re here for, to help companies like yours understand what’s going on, on the ground, in those markets,” Taylor explained. “Hopefully I can make connections and open the door to help facilitate what’s needed for you all to be able to expand those export opportunities.”

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