Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE)

The Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE) initiative is an innovative partnership between USDA and the specialty crops sector to break down non-tariff trade barriers that hinder U.S. exports of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, horticultural crops, and other products. 

The initiative aims to open new international markets and solidify existing ones, ensuring that U.S. exports compete on fair and level playing field and helping producers and industry better understand the regulations and requirements that affect their ability to sell their products to foreign customers. 

ASCE is different from USDA’s traditional export market development programs in that, rather than beginning with a call for grant proposals, the projects will begin with a dialogue between the Foreign  Agricultural Service and industry stakeholders to identify specific export challenges or concerns that can be addressed via targeted ASCE projects.

The projects will target such cross-cutting issues as:  

  • Addressing the implications of new and forthcoming regulations related to plastics and packaging for fresh produce and other specialty crop products;
  • Helping U.S. exporters identify potential export markets and better understand the mechanics of exporting;
  • Assisting U.S. exporters with navigating foreign standards, certifications, and import requirements, including maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides used on specialty crops; and
  • Helping importing countries adopt international standards and harmonize import regulations in order to facilitate trade.

ASCE projects are intended to benefit an entire industry or product category rather than a specific company. They are not intended to directly export products, identify specific foreign buyers, support market promotion activities, or deal with tariffs and related trade policy issues. 


ASCE supports products that fall under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service definition of a specialty crop. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, pulses, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, and culinary herbs and spices, in addition to processed products such as wine that contain more than 50 percent of the specialty crop by weight (exclusive of added water).


Trade organizations, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and state and local government entities are among those who can apply to partner with FAS on ASCE projects. Throughout the implementation period, industry groups will be important collaborators in ensuring the needs of U.S. producers and others stakeholders are being addressed. Organizations selected to implement ASCE projects are expected to engage with FAS personnel and with the agricultural producers, trade groups, and/or state departments of agriculture representing the products affected. 


FAS will design ASCE projects based on input from a diverse range of specialty crop stakeholders around the United States, and will seek partners to implement the projects via notices of funding opportunity (NOFOs) on and on the FAS website. Each notice will specify the details of the project, the types of organizations eligible to apply, the available funding amount, and the purposes for which funding can be used. ASCE projects may be funded through a variety of mechanisms, including contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements.


FAS announce the first ASCE project opportunities in Spring 2024 and will roll out additional opportunities in tranches over the next five years, or until funding is exhausted. Each project will have a specific implementation timeline outlined in the NOFO, generally between one and three years. 

Global Reach

ASCE funding is available for use in any foreign market to address non-tariff trade barriers facing U.S. specialty crop exports, with the exception of those countries subject to sanctions or State Department OFAC controls

Funding Opportunities

The following ASCE projects are currently open for applications.

How to Apply

Assisting Specialty Crop Exports Sustainable Packaging Innovation Lab (ASCE-SPIL)

Application Deadline: Jul 17, 2024
Status: Open

This ASCE project supports research and implementation projects that advance U.S. specialty crop exports by developing innovative solutions to emerging overseas regulatory requirements for packaging and labeling of specialty crops. The recipient will establish the ASCE-Sustainable Packaging Innovation Lab and develop, select, and manage a portfolio of sub-awards for industry and academic researchers working on sustainable packaging R&D and commercialization pilot activities to support U.S. exports of specialty crops.

NOFO Available on

Notice of Funding Opportunity PDF

Import MRL Guideline Implementation in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Member Economies

Application Deadline: Jul 17, 2024
Status: Open

This ASCE project supports the establishment of import maximum residue limits (import MRLs) in key U.S. export markets for specialty crops through the adoption and implementation of the official Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Import MRL Guideline for Pesticides in APEC member economies. Import MRLs in APEC economies that are trade facilitative and consistent with international standards such as Codex to improve access to export markets for U.S. specialty crops. 

NOFO Available on

Notice of Funding Opportunity PDF

Increasing Data Generation for Codex and Harmonized MRL Setting

Application Deadline: Jul 17, 2024
Status: Open

The goal of this ASCE project is to reduce the number of missing and misaligned MRLs by supporting collaborative pesticide residue research and data generation capacity for the establishment of Codex MRLs, particularly for specialty crops that benefit U.S. specialty crop producers and exports.

NOFO Available on

Notice of Funding Opportunity PDF

Regional Alignment of Pesticide Regulatory Systems and Trade Facilitative MRLs

Application Deadline: Jul 29, 2024
Status: Open

This ASCE Notice of Funding Opportunity includes tracks for projects in the regions of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa, and will work to address existing and potential trade needs related to MRLs for U.S. specialty crops entering these markets while supporting development of risk-based and trade facilitative policies consistent with international standards, such as Codex Alimentarius. This NOFO may generate multiple agreements. Applicants must clearly align their proposals with one of the regional tracks. An institution may submit applications for more than one regional track, provided they are submitted separately.

NOFO Available on

Notice of Funding Opportunity PDF

Information Session: A public virtual information session about the Regional Alignment of Pesticide Regulatory Systems and Trade Facilitative MRLs will be held for interested applicants on May 30, 2024, at 10:00am EDT, Washington, DC time via the meeting link available in the NOFO and in

MRL Quick Reference Sheets for U.S. Specialty Crops

Application Deadline: Jun 6, 2024
Status: Closed

This ASCE project will develop a set of quick reference sheets with maximum residue limits (MRLs) in the top foreign export markets for 60 different specialty crops, as well as the United States and Codex Alimentarius MRLs. The MRL quick reference sheets will be procured through a competitively solicited contract.

Status:  As part of the competitive procurement process, Requests for Information were published on and closed May 10, 2024, and also on which closed June 6, 2024 at 12:00pm EDT. Following the RFI process, the Request for Proposal is anticipated to be released soon.

News and Features

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis M. Taylor today announced the availability of funding for the first five projects under the new Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE) initiative.
Secretary Vilsack announced new USDA investments to support the U.S. specialty crops industry, including an initiative that will provide $65 million for projects that will help the sector increase global exports and expand to new markets.
Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA is providing $2.3 billion to help American producers maintain and develop markets for their commodities and use U.S. commodities to bolster international food aid.