The “best kept secret in export assistance” lets suppliers tap FAS programs to offset promotion costs for branded export initiatives.
The Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA) calls it the best kept secret in export assistance.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) allocated more than $95 million under two programs—the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP)—to assist smaller-size U.S. companies in promoting branded value-added foods and agricultural products internationally.
A good portion of that money is rolling over into 2020, plus USDA will be adding somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million in additional funding under MAP for the coming year.
“People don’t know the programs, so they don’t ask questions and they don’t pursue them,” SUSTA noted at a recent meeting outlining the opportunity. “We want to get the word out and assist U.S. companies with creating and expanding export markets.”
Purpose and uses
The programs are administered through SUSTA and the three other U.S. State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs): the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), Food Export USA-Northeast and Food Export Association of the Midwest USA. Each group refers to the programs under its own moniker: SUSTA calls it “CostShare;” WUSATA calls it “FundMatch;” and Food Export Midwest and Northeast call it “Branded.”
The money is earmarked for branded company activities, as opposed to separate MAP and ATP money allocated to organizations like USDEC for generic export promotion activities.
U.S. dairy suppliers can apply for the funds for a variety of endeavors, including advertising, trade shows exhibitions, in-store demos and displays, packaging and label changes, certain travel expenses, website development and other marketing expenses.
The maximum reimbursement is $300,000 for each of the MAP and ATP programs. That means the two together could potentially pay a company $600,000 in a single year. The minimum reimbursement level for a single project is $2,500, meaning a company would need to spend at least $5,000 on the proposed activity for it to qualify for the programs.
Process and eligibility
The best way to determine if your company, product and project would qualify under the MAP or ATP branded programs is to contact your respective SRTG office. Your SRTG office is based on where your company is headquartered. (See map below for the regional divisions and contact information for the four offices.)
- SUSTA, New Orleans, 504-568-5986. CostShare director is Deneen Wiltz ([email protected]).
- WUSATA, Vancouver, Wash., 360-693-3373. FundMatch director is Tricia Stein ([email protected]).
- Food Export Association of the Midwest USA, Chicago, 312-334-9200. Branded manager is Molly Burns ([email protected]).
- Food Export USA-Northeast, Philadelphia, 215-829-9111. Branded manager is Howard Gordon ([email protected]).
Once contacted, the SRTGs will hold 1:1 consultations with companies interested in the branded programs. They will walk candidates through the eligibility requirements and the online application process and answer questions about projects, costs and reimbursement. (Companies pay all out-of-pocket expenses up front and are reimbursed after the activity concludes.)
There is a $250 non-refundable application fee (due annually if you apply for the funds in subsequent years), as well as a 6% administration fee assessed and calculated upon the approved contracted money. These fees are paid up front. The 6% fee is paid after the contract with the SRTG is approved and is owed regardless of whether or not a company spends the full amount.
Eligibility requirements include but are not limited to the following:
- Must be engaged year-round in exports, with a dedicated point person to work with the SRTG.
- Must be registered under the government’s System for Award Management (SAM).
- Must be in good standing with their state’s Secretary of State office.
- Must qualify as a small business as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for the MAP program. For dairy processors, SBA definitions vary by product manufactured. For example, a butter maker would need to have 750 or fewer employees to qualify, while a cheesemaker would need 1,250 employees or less. Co-ops are exempt from the requirements. For non-processors, the deciding factor is annual receipts rather than employees. Non-processors must book less than $15 million in annual receipts to qualify. For the ATP program, eligibility requirements are tripled in terms of employees numbers and total receipts.
- Must be branded.
- Must have at least 50% of U.S. ag content as determined by weight, excluding water weight and packaging weight.
- Must have a statement of U.S. origin on the product. Stickers are acceptable in many cases, although some countries like Indonesia forbid the use of such stickers.
The SRTGs should be able to clarify any requirements and point out any potential issues with proposed promotional activities.
Turnaround for finding out whether a project gets accepted varies and often depends on how organized the applicant is and how quickly the company can respond to SRTG requests. In general, once an application is submitted, you should learn of the fate of your proposal in about a month.
Reimbursement takes 4-6 weeks after the submission of expense claims.
The SRTGs began accepting applications for the 2020 calendar year in August. The groups consider the applications on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The programs present a not-to-be-missed opportunity for qualifying U.S. dairy suppliers looking to build overseas markets.