Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
Opening EU Doors
Jul 17, 2008
In today’s world of high-speed Internet, teleconferences and technology, it’s amazing how much good a face-to-face meeting can do. It also lets you see how much commonality exists when it seems differences can be so great among producers throughout the world.
Yesterday officially kicked off the first Top Producer Frontier Study Tour in Brussels, Belgium—the home of the European Commission and the seat of the EU government. Here in Brussels, we met with European agricultural organizations and our own representatives from USDA’s foreign ag service. It was a day devoted to understanding common issues between our two governments and finding opportunities, as well as challenges for U.S. farmers, particularly for our tour sponsors the United Soybean Board. Mission accomplished.
At FEDIOL, the representative organization of the European vegetable oil and oilseed industry, we discussed the challenges faced by Europe’s biodiesel industry, of which there are many. The EU is going through a serious debate on the future of its biodiesel industry right now. About a year ago, a proposal was put forth for a 20% renewable fuel mandate by 2020, and it seemed to have significant support. But recently that has changed, as European food prices have skyrocketed.
No matter what the reality of the situation is or what the facts say, Armadine Lacourt with the European Biodiesel Board says it is a significant uphill climb to convince people otherwise. She very much had the feeling of helplessness about the situation and essentially pleaded for help.
This is an area where USB Communications Committee Vice Chair Russ Carpenter sees opportunity for U.S. and EU farmers to work together. “She’s using numbers from the oil industry and the government. I think we have some numbers they can use to show something different.”
Carpenter also sees a great opportunity for opening more exports to the European Union. “They don’t want GMO soybeans and that was clear,” he says.
Pekka Pesonen¸ the head of COPE-COGECA, the largest farm organization in the EU, is still bitter about the U.S. introduction of GMO soybeans more than 10 years ago. Like most farmers here, he favors GMO crops and would like to see them more widely accepted. Consumers just don’t want them and that is putting EU livestock producers at a disadvantage in the world market.
This is a lesson Lime Springs, Iowa, corn and soybean grower Tim Richter says, which proves how protectionist attitudes can work against you. Pesonen was very clear that European livestock feeders are faced with challenges because of rising feed costs and access to U.S. soybeans would benefit their livestock farmers.
“The trade regulations the EU has pursued all these years is harming them now,” Richter says. “It shows that restrictive trade policies can come back and bite you.”