Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, who headed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under the Trump administration, has been selected to receive the U.S. Meat Export Federation's Michael J. Mansfield Award. USMEF established the award in recognition of the U.S. Senate majority leader and ambassador to Japan whose five decades of government service advanced U.S. trade relations throughout the world.
Leann Saunders, co-founder of Where Food Comes From, will receive the USMEF Distinguished Service Award. This award honors outstanding figures in the red meat industry who exemplify the exceptional, individual dedication responsible for the federation’s success. Both awards will be presented Nov. 10 at the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Oklahoma City.
"I'm truly honored to receive the Michael J. Mansfield Award," Lighthizer said. "I've known some of the other recipients and they all did a great job for this country. We worked closely with USMEF through several negotiations and hopefully did a good job for the people USMEF represents. I'm grateful for the 20-hour days we get from our farmers and ranchers, and the reality is, when they are successful America is more successful."
During his time at USTR, Lighthizer spearheaded key trade agreements that expanded opportunities for U.S. red meat. This included the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement with China, which achieved meaningful access for U.S. beef for the first time in the post-BSE era and lowered trade barriers for U.S. pork.
"In the case of China, President Trump took very strong actions to try to begin to rebalance that relationship," Lighthizer said. "In the final analysis, farmers, ranchers and agribusiness hung in there with the president and we ended up with a really good deal. I think Phase One was a historic agreement for a lot of reasons, but certainly one of them was what it accomplished for the meat industry."
Lighthizer also led negotiation of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, which lowered tariffs for U.S. pork and beef and leveled the playing field in the highly competitive Japanese market – the highest value destination for U.S. red meat exports.
"When I spoke to people about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they told me it basically came down to increasing agricultural sales to Japan," Lighthizer explained. "And that's really what we did in the Japan agreement. We got almost all the benefits of TPP, but without having to pay the price in other sectors."
Ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was also a major achievement. While USMCA did not make major changes in North American meat trade, its passage calmed trade tensions with Mexico and Canada and preserved duty-free access for U.S. red meat in these critical export markets. Lighthizer also oversaw the effort to establish a U.S.-specific allocation of the European Union’s duty-free beef quota, securing more reliable, year-round access for U.S. beef in the high-value EU market.
USMEF Distinguished Service Award recipient Leann Saunders is co-founder of Where Food Comes From Inc., a leader in food verification and certification and livestock identification and traceability systems. IMI Global, a division of Where Food Comes From, was instrumental in developing identification, traceability and verification systems that assisted the U.S. beef industry in meeting specific export requirements following the first U.S. case of BSE in 2003. Today the company's programs enable ranchers, growers, feeders, packers and processors to meet specific export or private brand label requirements related to production practices.
Saunders previously worked for PM Beef Holdings, where she developed the first-ever USDA Process Verified Program for U.S. beef, and for McDonald's Corporation and Hudson Foods Corporation. Her involvement with USMEF dates back to her time as a student at Colorado State University, where Saunders earned bachelor's and master's degrees and developed a powerful interest in the global growth potential for U.S. agricultural exports.
"USMEF holds a dear place in my heart, and has for a very long time," she said. "As a student, I had some really great mentors in my undergraduate and graduate programs – people like Dr. Gary Smith and Dr. Tom Field who exposed me to the great work USMEF was doing and the support it provides to the beef, pork, lamb and grain industries."
Appreciative of the guidance that helped her achieve a successful career in agriculture, Saunders makes it a priority to mentor young people and help foster the next generation of U.S. agricultural leaders. She currently serves on the board of directors for the University of Nebraska's Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program and on the Dean's Advisory Council for the Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences.
"I feel very strongly about giving back, the same way people gave up their time to help put me in a position to succeed," Saunders said. "There is a lot of excitement about agriculture among young people today, and the international markets are especially intriguing for them. They can learn about what's happening around the world in a way that supports U.S. agriculture and that supports those who work every day to feed the world in a sustainable manner."
Lists of past recipients of the Michael J. Mansfield Award and the USMEF Distinguished Service Award are available from the USMEF website. More information on the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference is also available online.
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