International Trade:

Agricultural Trade Offices' Role in Promoting U.S. Exports Is Unclear

NSIAD-92-65: Published: Jan 16, 1992. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) worldwide network of agricultural trade offices (ATO), focusing on: (1) ATO activities; (2) the criteria used to select ATO sites; (3) how well ATO carry out their market development mission; and (4) the adequacy of program management and operations.

GAO found that: (1) ATO activities were generally consistent with the type of market development activities specified in their authorizing legislation and included supervising cooperator activities, providing trade assistance services, and supporting export assistance programs; (2) trade offices generally devote more of their total time to market development activities than agricultural attache posts, which generally carry out the same types of activities; (3) 6 of the 13 ATO serve as USDA representatives and function as de facto attache posts and assume responsibility for such traditional attache activities as commodity reporting and trade policy work; (4) since 1978, USDA has opened trade offices without consistently using specific site selection criteria; (5) it was unable to assess the overall effectiveness of ATO, because USDA has not devised a long-range market development strategy or established benchmarks by which to gauge ATO effectiveness; (6) USDA lacks an overall vision of how ATO can enhance agricultural competitiveness and has made little effort to evaluate how well ATO carry out their mission; and (7) personnel quality is an important factor in determining ATO effectiveness, but USDA does not have a curriculum devoted to market development or provide opportunities for trade office directors to share marketing ideas.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is upgrading its capacity to evaluate ATO effectiveness in implementing market development programs. It has established an Office of Planning and Evaluation reporting to the Administrator of FAS to provide more emphasis on agency evaluation and effectiveness. It is establishing benchmarks and measures for evaluation of ATO as part of its revised Long-Term Agricultural Trade Strategy and as required under GPFRA. However, specific information on its approach is not available.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to establish benchmarks with which to evaluate ATO effectiveness and use them to assess the effectiveness of ATO in implementing Agriculture's market development programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA officials say that the role of ATO is important to the successful implementation of its long-term agricultural trade strategy and its long-term market development mission. The substance of GAO's recommendation is generally encompassed in USDA's long-term agricultural trade strategy, which was issued on October 25, 1995. It called for the establishment of new ATO in FY 1996 to assist in the accomplishment of this mission.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to define the role and activities that ATO will play in the long-term agricultural trade strategy and in carrying out Agriculture's market development mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 25, 1995 the Department of Agriculture issued its LATS report, which delineates the agency's global trade strategy. Prominent elements of the strategy report include clarification of the agency's mission and export goal, identification of key agency export tools. description of country market strategy analysis, and an overview of its unified strategic management approach.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to complete the long-term agricultural trade strategy required by the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 as soon as possible. In developing the strategy, FAS should consult with the Department of Commerce about its strategic review, as well as solicit input from overseas staff and trade representatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The criteria and methodology for selecting ATO sites are under review. FAS considers this a serious issue and is reconsidering it in the context of implementing its long-term agricultural trade strategy. A revised long-term agricultural trade strategy that contained information that was generally responsive to the substance of GAO's recommendation was issued on October 25, 1995. However, more details would be helpful in completely understanding the criteria and methodology in selecting ATO sites.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to review the criteria and methodology presented in the 1979 impact analysis statement and develop written criteria and a methodology for evaluating current and proposed ATO.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Market development training and conferences are a high priority of the new FAS administrator. A task force has been established focusing on these needs. FAS has also initiated an internal review reconsidering the length of time ATO and other FAS foreign service officers are spending. This review has resulted in some revisions of ATO training for market development and changes in FAS overseas rotation policy consistent with the general orientation of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FAS, to establish specialized market development courses and annual marketing conferences, and reassess the length of overseas assignments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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