Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met today with alumni of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cochran Fellowship Program in Shanghai, China. At a sit-down reception with about 15 Cochran Fellows, Vilsack thanked the alumni for their hard work and on selecting a career of vital importance to global trade and development.

“The USDA is committed to supporting people around the world who are striving to better their lives, and the lives of others, through studies and careers in agriculture,” said Vilsack. “The Cochran Fellowship Program helps participants become leaders in their fields and develop expertise that will enhance agricultural productivity, help feed hungry people, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen sustainable agricultural practices.”

The Cochran Program is administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). It provides U.S.-based agricultural training for senior and mid-level specialists and administrators from public and private sector institutions abroad. Cochran Fellows traditionally have careers in agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy, and marketing in their home countries. In China, the Cochran Program has provided training to 660 Chinese fellows since 1989, including 19 in 2009 to-date and 30 in 2008. Fields of study have included food safety, meat and poultry inspection, dairy management, and plant variety and protection.

USDA began administering the Cochran Program 25 years ago after the program’s namesake, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, envisioned providing training and support to help developing nations improve their agricultural systems and strengthen and enhance trade links with the United States.

Since its inception in 1984, the Cochran Program has provided training for over 13,500 international participants from 122 countries worldwide. In 2008, the Program received 520 participants from 75 countries. Cochran alumni have made valuable contributions to improving national trade policies and regulatory frameworks that increase market access for American agricultural products.

Vilsack is in China with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to participate in meetings for the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT). The JCCT serves as an important forum for Cabinet-level officials from both countries to resolve trade concerns and enhance economic opportunities and cooperation. Before attending the JCCT meetings, Vilsack officially opened the U.S. Trade and Investment Mission in Manila, the Philippine capital, and also met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, Secretary of Agriculture Arthur C. Yap and other government officials.