The nation's beef cattle producers are praising President-elect George Bush's choice for US Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, for her expertise in international trade.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) issued a statement about the Modesto, Calif. native who is expected to be the first woman to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

"Veneman, a California lawyer, has a strong background in both agriculture and international trade," the association said. "This will be critical for the beef industry, as exports are our future for growth," the trade promotion and lobbying group said, adding that "96% of potential consumers of US beef - nearly six billion people - live outside US borders."

The cattlemen cited Veneman's past USDA service in international affairs, commodity programs, international trade negotiations and other USDA Foreign Agricultural Service duties.

"NCBA looks forward to working with Veneman and will urge her to implement key issues for U.S. cattle producers, such as ensuring that trade laws are fair, continuing to open up new markets for US beef, maintaining a free-market system, ensuring that market information is available to producers and continuing to improve the meat-inspection system to ensure that US beef remains the gold standard for wholesomeness and safety."

The trade association represents cattle ranchers, farmers and feeders.

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