The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a national hemp advocacy group $200,000 as part of a program meant to promote international trade policies that support the industry.
The National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) will use the the USDA Market Access Program grant funds for the 2021 fiscal year to help develop marketing projects overseas, facilitate trade meetings with foreign partners and promote U.S. hemp products as the market expands.
While the grant serves a practical function, it’s also a symbolic development that demonstrate’s the federal government’s commitment to the burgeoning cannabis industry since the crop was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
“We are grateful for USDA confidence and the recognition of NIHC as the industry leader in industrial hemp trade and marketing,” Kevin Latner, senior vice president for trade and marketing at NIHC, said in a press release on Friday. He added that the announcement “makes NIHC a trusted partner to USDA for hemp fiber, feed, food and CBD companies looking to break down trade barriers in markets overseas.”
Latner, who was appointed to a federal advisory committee on trade issues for USDA in July, told Marijuana Moment that “market access barriers that industries face fit into a couple of different categories, and in that way, the hemp industry isn’t unique—but in another way, the fact that it is a new industry means that there are a lot of questions that come up because there hasn’t been a lot of trade.”
“This is going to allow us to address questions of how do we export to countries that have maybe different threshold levels for THC? How do we test for THC? What are going to be the standards so that when products come in that have been recognized as approved in the United States that they are approved overseas?” he said.
NIHC says it plans to focus its advocacy on China and Europe as “top priority markets,” aiming to develop relationships and trade policies that will promote the sale of hemp products that are manufactured domestically.
The federal government has also recognized the market potential of China for the crop, which historically has been a main source of hemp imports. A trade deal announced at the beginning of the year requires the country to import hemp from the U.S. on a larger scale over the next two years.
A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the NIHC will use the new federal funds to “coordinate with the Food Export Association of the Midwest on developing and executing these hemp market promotion activities.”
The Midwest group was awarded $10,707,582 in FY21 Market Access Program funds. Of that, “$200,000 is dedicated to market promotion activities to benefit the hemp industry,” the USDA spokesperson said. All of this comes as the agency continues to craft and refine regulations for hemp since its federal legalization.
USDA has approved a total of 69 state and tribal hemp regulatory proposals—most recently for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.
While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.
USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations last month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said in September that it was temporarily reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.
Because of those stakeholder concerns and USDA ongoing rulemaking, Congress approved a continuing resolution that extends the 2014 hemp pilot program until September 30, 2021. That program, which farmers consider more flexible than the newly proposed regulations, was initially set to expire at the end of October.
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