Association of Food Industries

2020 Chairman’s Report

James Libby
Finck-Jones-Libby Co.

Before I review another successful season of AFI activities, a personal note. More than 60 years ago, my great-uncle, the founding partner of my firm, served as president of what was then the Association of Food Distributers of New York. A plaque thanking him for his service from 1957-1959 still hangs in our office and cites the growth in ‘membership & scope’ under his leadership. 

I suspect he would be pleased that this growth would only accelerate as the second and third generations would enter the trade and AFI would achieve the formidable presence in the food industry it enjoys today. The confidence in the future is perhaps his most valuable legacy, but there is also a disciplined professionalism that still inhabits the culture of the AFI worth commenting on.

My own involvement in AFI, now spanning decades, was one of reliance on the professional engagement with industry challenges that I would face as a young man right out of college with no commercial experience, starting in business. One of the first observations I made was that small- and medium-sized firms were the heart and soul of the industry and made up the core of the association.  

In my early years, AFI offered a chance to meet experienced leaders in my field, whose discipline and experience would provide a rich trove of advice and counsel over the years. AFI immediately offered a professional insight into understanding issues as varied as tariffs, U.S. FDA regulation, contracts, customs and host of other issues, which I was to encounter as I began what was to become a multi-decade career. Contract standards, as well as arbitration services remain a valuable part of AFI’s work.

Looking over the notes of a recent Board of Directors meeting, I happened to notice the discussion of the association’s “mission statement” which includes, amongst other things, “free and fair trade” and to “foster compliance with U.S. laws and regulations.” Those principles have been for many years and will continue to be crucial parts of the association’s mission. 

The complex period of implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act proved a challenging period for many firms and especially for smaller firms that originally did not have in-house regulatory or compliance specialists. AFI President Bob Bauer was a leader in developing the curriculum for the Foreign Supplier Verification Program course and continues to offer two-day seminars in implementation and management of FSVP which will meet FDA standards. This has proven invaluable to many firms throughout the industry and AFI’s involvement in the FSMA development and implementation process has put its members well ahead of the learning curve.

In the divisive and contentious period that we have entered in the last year or so, AFI has continued to confront a growing protectionist atmosphere that threatens the free trade, which is a basic principle. The core value of open markets remains under the greatest threat that I can recall since the beginning of my career. When you consider the value of AFI membership, the constant work of reporting on and confronting tariff barriers is an essential function that I hope you will join me in continuing to support.  A prime example is the aggressive and ultimately successful campaign AFI waged on behalf of importers to include several food products in the 2018 Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, a process we repeated for the next MTB that’s under consideration now. Many of our membership continue to benefit from the competitive advantage the rapid reporting of changing tariff levels and AFI will continue to lead in this. 

When the possibility of punitive duties on products from the European Union was announced, AFI wasted little time in responding with timely reporting and constant updates. In addition to filing comments on behalf of the industry, it provided members with tools to help them submit comments of their own and to help their customers submit comments detailing the harm the tariffs would cause.

Today, the membership and scope of AFI is international, with its international membership nearly five times the domestic membership and growing apace; AFI has widened its involvement in international trade at a pace I couldn’t imagine when I was just starting out.  

The quality and vigor of our present work owes much to my fellow members of the Board of Directors, whose continuous generosity with both their time and expertise is perhaps one of AFI’s finest assets. Warmest thanks!

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
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