Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is in Japan this week to promote U.S. agricultural products as part of President Obama’s efforts to expand U.S. exports. While he is in Japan, Vilsack will meet with Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Hirotaka Akamatsu, as well as U.S. exporters and Japanese importers.

"We are determined to increase export opportunities for our farmers and ranchers," says Vilsack. "My mission on this trip will be to continue to push hard to open markets and to bolster an open, rules-based international trading system that will benefit both consumers and our farmers and ranchers, who supply agricultural products around the world."

Obama has announced a National Export Initiative to coordinate federal efforts to help rebuild the economy by increasing export opportunities. The initiative’s goal is to double all U.S. exports in the next five years. The new strategy will improve collaboration among USDA agencies and guide priorities for international staffing, foreign assistance and agricultural research.

In addition to giving a keynote address on April 7 at a Global Food Security Symposium sponsored by the U.S. Grains Council, Vilsack will meet with students at the University of Tokyo in a town hall meeting. He will give a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club on April 9.

On April 8, Vilsack will travel by train to Yamanashi to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of a 1959 “hog lift” when Iowa farmers sent 36 hogs to Yamanashi after Japan suffered major livestock losses caused by two typhoons. Three years later, the original 36 hogs had multiplied to more than 500. Iowa and Yamanashi established a sister-state relationship after the hog lift. A delegation from Iowa will accompany Vilsack to Yamanashi.

"The hog lift symbolizes the start off a flourishing agricultural relationship," Vilsack says. "For more than 50 years, U.S. grain and soybean producers have worked with Japanese importers to develop strong and reliable markets that have benefited producers and consumers alike."

Japan is America’s third largest export market with sales of more than $11 billion in fiscal 2009. The top-five U.S. agricultural commodities shipped there are coarse grains, red meats, soybeans, feeds and fodders and processed fruits and vegetables. Updates on Vilsack’s trip to Japan will be at http://www.usda.gov.