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December 2010 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Best of TATT 2010

Dec 29, 2010


By Mary Boote (www.truthabouttrade.org)
Before the year 2010 slips into the history books, here’s a quick review of what the farmers who lend their voices to Truth about Trade & Technology said about some of the most pressing issues of the day.
On trade, we watched U.S.President Obama evolve from trade skeptic to trade enthusiast, at least rhetorically. In January, Terry Wanzek cheered Obama’s State of the Union address, with its promise to double exports in five years and push for free-trade agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama: “His words on the subject were some of the most encouraging of his presidency.” (Giving Voice to a Free Trade Agenda – 29 January 2010)
Then Wanzek suggested a reasonable goal: “If the president is truly committed to expanding America’s trade opportunities, he should first try for a simple accomplishment. How about winning congressional approval for just one of the trade pacts that we’ve already negotiated?”
By the summer, Tim Burrack was impatient for progress: “Now [Obama] has to turn these words into action,” he wrote in July. “Does the president really need a panel of advisors to tell him that the highest priorities on the U.S. trade agenda are approving the free-trade agreements already negotiated with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea? This has been true for more than three years. Yet Congress has let these deals languish. And the Obama administration has done almost nothing to revive them.” (We Need a Grand-Slame Trade Agenda – 30 July 2010)
Carol Keiser was willing to wait until after the mid-term elections. “It’s time to quit the drama and get the deal done,” she urged in November. She was speaking specifically about the trade agreement with South Korea. (Let’s Get It Done! – 4 November 2010)
In December, Dean Kleckner proposed combining all three trade agreements into one vote. “I’d gladly take the agreement with South Korea on its own merits. Not long ago, I feared that we’d never see it enacted. Today, I’m optimistic about its chances. Yet the arguments for and against each trade agreement are almost identical. To the extent that differences exist, they’re just variations on a theme. A case for one agreement is really a case for all three.” (Let’s Kill Three ‘Trade-Birds’ With One Stone – 16 December 2010)
Ultimately, Obama didn’t deliver any trade agreements in 2010, but the supporters of free trade have good reason to hope for big news in 2011.
On technology, there was also welcome news. “The real story about biotech crops is not just good, but actually better than the most positive press releases make it sound,” wrote Bill Horan in April. (The Real Story About Biotech Crops – 23 April 2010)
In August, Australian farmer Jeff Bidstrup, the 2008 recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, made a compelling observation: “Agricultural biotechnology has just passed an important milestone: Farmers around the world have now planted more than a billion hectares of genetically modified crops.” He credited TATT’s “Counting Up” website tool for the calculation. (Multilingual Measurement Milestone – 26 August 2010)
“Biotech crops make sense because they improve production and protect the environment,” wrote Bidstrup. “I’ve seen it on my own farm in GM cotton and many Australian farmers have seen it on theirs in GM canola. We’re looking forward to the day when GM traits come to wheat as well.”
Yet biotechnology also faced new threats from lawsuits and regulations.
“Imagine a judge telling U.S. Olympian Shaun White that he has to surrender his gold medal in the halfpipe because he didn’t practice his amazing 1260 Double McTwist enough times before unleashing it in Vancouver,” wrote Reg Clause in February. “That’s roughly what has happened to farmers who plant alfalfa.” (Sensible Regulations Required – 26 February 2010)
Four months later, Clause followed up with a report on a significant legal victory: “In the Supreme Court’s first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the justices issued a resounding decision in favor of biotechnology.” (Judging the Facts About Biotechnology – 25 June 2010)
Yet lawsuits remained potent adversaries. “The risk is that activist groups will hurl so much litigation at minor crops such as sugar beets that the scientists and entrepreneurs who create and market new agricultural products will begin to fear that the costs outweigh the benefits,” wrote John Rigolizzo Jr. in September. “Research and development will cease. Farmers and consumers will pay a steep price. We can’t let that happen—not if we care about the fate of family farms, the cost of food, and the American tradition of innovation.” (Litigating in Favor of Weeds – 30 September 2010)
In October, Ted Sheely warned about the dangers of over-regulation. “I support sensible regulations. It’s the insensible ones that drive me batty. The problem is that the EPA often refuses to exercise common sense. Its one-size-fits-all approach is bad for everyone. The only people it helps are the regulators who seem to think that their job is to produce a bumper crop in onerous new rules, without a care for whether rural America produces the food that our country needs.” (Strangulation By Regulation – 7 October 2010)
In a popular column on the game FarmVille, John Reifsteck turned to a basic truth: “Food doesn’t just come from the grocery store. It comes from the dedication of men and women around the world who work the land.” (FarmVille – 30 December 2009)
It’s something policymakers should bear in mind when they think about trade and technology, no matter what the year.
Mary Boote serves as Executive Director for Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

O Tanenbaum: Ready for an Evergreen Revolution

Dec 22, 2010

By Dean Kleckner - www.truthabouttrade.org

When President Obama called for an “Evergreen Revolution” last month, he was thinking about agriculture rather than Christmas. If he wants a holiday theme song for his idea, however, he could do a lot worse than “O Tanenbaum,” the popular carol: “Your branches green delight us / They are green when summer days are bright / They are green when winter snow is white.”
An evergreen is a plant that keeps its leaves in all seasons. The Evergreen Revolution is a call for all-season agriculture: the development of crops that can grow in stressful conditions for our collective food security.
Obama talked about the Evergreen Revolution in his address to India’s parliament on November 8. “Together, we can strengthen agriculture,” he said. “As farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.”
The term doesn’t originate with Obama--he’s just the latest person to use it. The Indian scientist M. S. Swaminathan (first World Food Prize winner) started to popularize the notion of an Evergreen Revolution more than a decade ago. A precise definition is elusive--it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. In general, however, the Evergreen Revolution evokes a movement to improve agricultural productivity without rendering environmental harm.
It also harks back to its predecessor, the Green Revolution, pioneered by Norman Borlaug. This was the effort a generation ago to help farmers in poor nations adopt better seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation. Its success is a root cause of the world’s current population boom. Without the Green Revolution, we wouldn’t have enough food to feed our planet of over 6 billion people- and growing.
The Green Revolution was a global phenomenon, but India is often considered its epicenter. “Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution,” said Obama in New Delhi. Then he suggested that a similar partnership could ignite the Evergreen Revolution. “Today, India is a leader in using technology to empower farmers,” he said. “And the United States is a leader in agricultural productivity and research.”
The Green Revolution pursued several strategies--and so will the Evergreen Revolution. At its center, however, must be an unflinching commitment to biotechnology. Although GM crops aren’t a cure-all for the world’s food challenges, they’re an essential part of any serious plan to boost productivity in an environmentally sustainable way.
India’s Swaminathan has called for the careful acceptance of biotechnology: “You can use biotechnology for bioterrorism, or you can use it for biohappiness. I feel we must try to use all the technologies in this world for biohappiness, which means people have a good life, better health, better food, as a result of the technology.”
Unfortunately, there was a "missed opportunity" to apply those principles in India earlier this year. Researchers have developed a form of GM brinjal (eggplant) that resists pests. Although a scientific panel said the crop was safe for human consumption, the government surrendered to political pressure from anti-biotech activists and refused to approve the plant. Instead, it called for more study. Swaminathan supported the delay, saying that public attitudes need to change.
He’s right about that: Public attitudes do need to change. In India and elsewhere, there’s too much unfounded fear of biotechnology. Correcting this problem, however, will require leadership from the likes of Swaminathan. He needs to speak out.
So do farmers. More than anybody else, we understand how biotech crops can improve a nation’s quality of life. This is why millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries have chosen to grow GM crops. As soon as they have access to these tools, they want to make use of them. Over the last decade and a half, farmers, world-wide, have planted and harvested more than 2.5 billion acres of genetically enhanced crops.
If the Evergreen Revolution is to succeed, it will have to ensure that widespread access to biotechnology is one of its bedrock principles.
Another Christmas carol--a modern one--captures the driving spirit behind this vital movement: “Feed the world / Let them know it’s Christmastime.”
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

Let's Kill Three 'Trade-Birds' With One Stone

Dec 16, 2010

 By Dean Kleckner, Chairman (www.truthabouttrade.org)

If it’s worth killing two birds with one stone, it’s even better to kill three.
That’s why John Boehner, the incoming Speaker of the House, has such a good idea: Congress and the Obama administration should combine our country’s three pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and consider them at once.
It makes political and economic sense for both Democrats and Republicans.
In November, President Obama suffered a pair of major setbacks: His party was trounced in the mid-term elections and his subsequent trip to Asia ended in disappointment when he failed to bring home a free-trade agreement with South Korea.
Ever since, however, he has worked with the diligence of an early bird that’s out to catch a worm. Obama forged a bipartisan compromise with Republicans on taxes, showing Americans and the world that he’s capable of leading a divided government. His team also wrapped up trade negotiations with South Korea, striking a deal that promises to create jobs and help realize his goal of doubling exports by 2015.
The agreement with South Korea is substantial. It would become America’s biggest free-trade pact since NAFTA, tying our economy more closely to a fast-growing dynamo in Asia. The deal isn’t perfect, but it’s still very good for the United States. He even managed to persuade a couple of big unions, the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers, to support the deal because it will boost export opportunities for car manufacturers and agriculture.
The measures with Colombia and Panama aren’t nearly as large because their economies aren’t nearly as big. But they’re still excellent deals that will increase our ability to sell goods and services to foreign customers.
So, in the spirit of birds of a feather flocking together, Congress should bundle all three and approve them.
I know what you’re thinking: Please stop with the folksy idioms about avian life!
Or maybe you’re wondering whether a bird in the hand is worth two (or three) in the bush. In other words, doesn’t it make sense just to let the agreement with South Korea proceed on the grounds that it appears ready for legislative success whereas the fate of the other two is less certain?
Well, I’d gladly take the agreement with South Korea on its own merits. Not long ago, I feared that we’d never see it enacted. Today, I’m optimistic about its chances.
Yet the arguments for and against each trade agreement are almost identical. To the extent that differences exist, they’re just variations on a theme. A case for one agreement is really a case for all three. That’s why Obama found it so easy to change his mind about trade from skepticism to support.
Either you believe that engagement with the global economy will allow the United States to soar with the eagles--or you’re an economic isolationist who thinks the United States should act like a fledgling that can’t see past the nearest cluster of leaves.
Must we have a political battle over South Korea--and then re-fight it two more times over Colombia and Panama? Wouldn’t it make more sense to join all three agreements, hold a robust debate about the economic principles of trade, and then schedule an up-or-down vote?
That’s Boehner’s proposal. Obama would be smart to seize it.
Following raucous midterm elections, both the president and congressional Republicans have an opportunity to redefine themselves. Either they can be ideological obstructionists who refuse to work together or they can be pragmatic problem solvers who search for points of common interest.
On some issues, such as health care, the two camps may be too far apart to achieve consensus. The three trade agreements are a different matter. By supporting them, the politicians can prove that they’re in Washington to get things done--rather than simply to feather their own nests.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

Suing the hand that feeds you

Dec 09, 2010

By Carol Keiser-Long: Belleair, Florida (www.truthabouttrade.org)

NASA scientists announced last week that they’ve discovered a new form of life.
They didn’t stumble across evidence of little green men. What they found was almost as bizarre: a previously unknown form of bacteria that needs arsenic rather than phosphorus to survive.
For every other living creature--you, me, and the partridge in a pear tree--phosphorus is a building block of life. It’s also a vital ingredient for fertilizer. Without a supplement of phosphate, American farmers would have a hard time growing the crops that allow us to feed ourselves.
That’s why the assault of ideological environmentalists on the phosphate industry in my state of Florida seems as destructive as an alien attack from outer space. They’re trying to choke phosphate production with lawsuits. Their schemes imperil our nation’s food security as well as your pocketbook.
Florida is best known for its beaches and oranges, but it’s also a leader in phosphate production. About 70 percent of the phosphate that goes into the fertilizers and crop nutrition products used by American farmers comes from the Sunshine State where the phosphate deposits naturally occur. We need to maintain this reliable domestic source. For such a critical commodity, it simply makes sense to take advantage of the resources within our own borders.
Yet the Sierra Club and its brethren don’t seem to care. Earlier this year, they filed a lawsuit and found a sympathetic judge who slapped an injunction on a crop nutrition company’s attempt to expand its phosphate production.
The final results of this litigation remain to be seen. In the meantime, layoffs loom. If the activists win in court, it will only encourage them to issue more legal challenges. They will sue again and again, until they’ve killed off the domestic production of phosphate. That’s their goal, driven by an ideology that has little to do with the interests of the United States and its working citizens.
Phosphate mining employs about 4,000 people in the Tampa Bay region. If they can’t dig phosphate out of the ground, they’ll add to unemployment rolls that are already far too high. They aren’t the only ones who would feel the effects of a slowdown. Across the country, grocery-store bills would rise, though few people would understand the cause of the problem.
Phosphate prices already have risen by 31 percent since April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many experts think they’ll go even higher in the coming months. So right now, farmers are paying a premium for the fertilizer they plan to use next year. These costs ultimately will be passed on to consumers--and they’ll really skyrocket if radical environmentalists have their way.
Activists insist that phosphate mining hurts the environment. They make it sound as though miners rape the land, rendering it permanently unproductive. This is ridiculous. Phosphate miners don’t extract and abandon. They’re required by law to rehabilitate the land they mine. One company is planning to turn a 16,000-acre site into a resort complex with a hotel, conference center, and a pair of golf courses. This will be a permanent source of jobs for people in the area.
Many times, land is returned to agriculture. I’m a rancher, so I’m always looking for pasture. Reclaimed land is one of the best places to put cattle. It’s often superior to other types of land because a fresh layer of black soil covers it. I have personal experience with this practice--and believe me, I wouldn’t use this land if it wasn’t good enough for my herds.
But it’s more than good enough. The process of mining and refurbishing can leave the land beautiful and useful while providing a high quality habitat for future generations.
These companies understand their obligation. For them, land reclamation is an ordinary part of doing business--and an important part of sustainable food production. For environmental activists, an ordinary part of doing business apparently means putting other Americans out of business.
If they succeed, NASA will continue to look for signs of life--but it won’t find any in Florida’s phosphate industry.
Carol Keiser-Long owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Mrs. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member. (www.truthabouttrade.org)
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