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November 2011 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.


Nov 30, 2011
In Australia last week, President Obama sounded like a gambler: "Let there be no doubt," he said. "In the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in."
Who can blame him for using a poker term? A couple of years ago, he placed a big bet, promising that American exports would double by 2015. And lately he has enjoyed a winning streak on trade policy. First, his administration settled a tricky dispute with Mexico over long-haul truckers. Second, and more importantly, he finally sent over to Congress for their approval the languishing free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
Now he has set his eyes on an even more impressive prize: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade alliance that could grow to include nations that account for about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The potential payoff is very significant. If Canada, Japan, and Mexico join, the TPP would become America’s most important trade agreement at least since the passage of NAFTA almost a generation ago.
Yet it’s also a risky move--and complete failure is a distinct possibility, especially if Obama presses forward without Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a legislative tool that empowers him to strike deals with our economic partners.
Think of it this way: TPP needs TPA. It’s the kind of acronym-soup slogan that only a bureaucrat could love, but it’s also a motto our political class should embrace because it would create jobs and opportunities.
TPP started out as a set of trade talks between New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The idea was to reduce barriers to commerce, lowering prices for consumers and making business transactions easier.
Then TPP expanded to include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, and the United States. Taken together, the TPP nations would be America’s fifth-largest trading partner.
Earlier this month, however, the stakes grew even larger. Japanese Prime Minister Noda signaled his country’s interest. This prompted Canada and Mexico to say that they might want a seat at the table as well.
A successful agreement could turn TPP into the most significant economic bloc on the planet, larger than the European Union. At a time when the World Trade Organization can’t get its 153 members to agree on much of anything, it would represent a meaningful achievement.
It makes a lot of sense for Americans. Right now, Japan slaps a 778-percent tariff on rice imports. It also bans entire categories of U.S. beef. Removing these obstacles--or just reducing them to reasonable levels--would provide a boon to farmers and ranchers. Insurance companies and manufacturers also stand to make huge gains if they can win better access to Japanese markets.
TPP is like a jobs program that doesn’t require the federal government to spend a dime.
Success, however, will require smart play. Obama will have to supply strong leadership as he oversees negotiations.
Congress has a role as well. While our trade diplomats haggle over the details, lawmakers should revive TPA. Under its rules, a deal on TPP would go before representatives and senators for an up-or-down vote. Without TPA, no trade agreement can pass. Our Congress would just nitpick it to death. Nations won’t even enter truly serious conversations with the United States.  It would be a waste of their time.
Obama should ask for TPA. So far, he hasn’t bothered, possibly because he doesn’t want to antagonize his labor-union allies. Yet this is an issue he can’t afford to ignore.
Republican presidential candidates ought to put their partisan instincts aside and say he deserves it. They should recognize that it’s for the good of the country--and also that one of them may want to have it available on Inauguration Day in 2013.
Apart from the recent triumphs on trade policy, Washington hasn’t gotten much done this fall. It has refused to address the jobs crisis: Obama’s ballyhooed jobs plan was unrealistic and stillborn. Nor has it confronted the fiscal crisis: Congress’s so-called super committee failed to reach a budget agreement. Perhaps progress on these fronts will have to wait until after next year’s elections.
Yet the foundation for a successful TPP can be laid right now. All we have to do is deal ourselves a good hand.

Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology.  www.truthabouttrade.org 

African Farmers Will Help Feed the Billions

Nov 17, 2011

 By Gilbert Arap Bor:  Kapseret, Kenya

The world now has 7 billion people in it but the population growth didn’t stop there.  Demographers at the U.N. Population Fund said the big milestone came on the 31st day of October, focusing on a Philippine mother and her new-born. In Kenya, the Daily Nation newspaper highlighted a Kenyan mother and her newborn, also born on the last day of October at Kenyatta National Hospital. That same hospital delivered another five babies that same day, making it six new children added to Kenya’s and the world’s population in just that hospital alone!
The simple fact is that the world population is very large and it will continue to grow. By the 2020s, it will pass 8 billion. By the 2040s, it will top 9 billion.
That’s like adding two Chinas between now and the middle of the century, observes Robert L. Thompson of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The greatest challenge of our time will be to figure out how we’re going to put food in all of these mouths. Over the next four decades, farmers everywhere will have to boost their production by 70 percent.
African agriculture must play a major role in any viable solution.
Here in Kenya, we understand the dilemma firsthand. We’re adding about a million new people each year--and almost everywhere I go, I see the effects of a population surge. In cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Thika etc; the streets are so crowded it’s getting hard to walk down them. Our urban slums are mushrooming. On the outskirts of cities, real-estate developers are chewing up agricultural land - coffee and tea plantations, turning them into residential estates. What used to be little market centers along the highways have turned into big towns.
Thankfully, Kenya is beginning to take positive steps. Last year, our government approved the commercial planting of GM crops, becoming the fourth African country to do so. (The others are Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa.) This will give our farmers access to one of the world’s most important hunger-fighting tools.
We have far to go, but at least we’re on the right path. We can also draw upon tremendous resources in human capital, from the scientific expertise at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to the business know-how of the Kenya Seed Company.
Yet every African nation must do more. The continent holds tremendous agricultural potential, if only because its farming is so woefully unproductive right now. On my visits to the United States, I’ve witnessed many of the technologies and practices that could represent a bright future: GM seeds, minimum tillage, conservation agriculture, irrigation, and post-harvest storage.  These are some of the practices that contribute to sustainable farming and food security.
Other possibilities include better market access, improving the business environment, reforming governmental policies, promoting high-value crops, and linking local producers to global trade.
In each of these areas, Africa lags. Many farmers remain wedded to primitive forms of agriculture that were hardly adequate in the 20th century and its billions fewer people, to say nothing of the 21st.
Most African farmers have no choice. Their governments follow the misguided and woefully wrong example of European countries that refuse to accept biotechnology. They’re held hostage by scientific illiterates who go to well-paid jobs that require them to raise money by frightening people about biotechnology.
Truth about Trade & Technology, a U.S.-based non-profit group, recently calculated that farmers around the world have planted more than 3 billion acres of GM crops, mostly in North and South America but also in Australia, India, the Philippines, South Africa and elsewhere. This is a remarkable achievement. Until more of Africa transforms it’s agricultural systems by applying science and technology to support an African "green revolution", however, it’s an incomplete one.
At a recent conference in Britain, Dr. Felix M’mobyi of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum put the matter bluntly.
"The affluent West has the luxury of choice in the type of technology they use to grow food crops, yet their influence and sensitivities are denying many in the developing world access to such technologies which could lead to a more plentiful food supply," he said. "This kind of hypocrisy and arrogance comes with the luxury of a full stomach."
I hope the Europeans were paying attention to Dr. M’mobyi because their positive leadership on this issue would make it a little easier for African farmers to help feed the billions.
Gilbert Arap Bor grows maize, vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya.  Mr. Bor, a lecturer at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa’s Eldoret Campus (Gaba), is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and was recently honored as the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient.
Note: a version of this column first appeared in the November 15 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Europe.

Shutting A Port: Occupy Oakland Oversteps

Nov 10, 2011

 By Dean Kleckner:  Des Moines, Iowa

The Occupy protestors claim to speak for "the 99 percent." Yet their recent hooliganism hurts the 9 percent who are unemployed as well as many others who are simply trying to earn a living.
That’s what happens when you force one of the busiest ports in the country to shut down: You make it harder for Americans to find work and conduct business.
We’re suffering through a Great Recession. Most Americans never have experienced harder economic times. Even those who are fortunate enough to have jobs are burdened by worries, from paying for mortgages to affording college.
Ignorant of these realities, the Occupy Oakland movement targeted the Port of Oakland, where trade-based economic activity supports more than 73,000 jobs in the region and more than 800,000 across the country.
Farmers depend on the Port of Oakland because it’s a major export center for wine, rice, fruit, and nuts. Last year, the United States sold more than $100 billion in agricultural goods to customers in other countries. Without fully functioning ports, products would not move and farmers would watch their harvests spoil in their fields or back-up in their storage.
One Occupy Oakland organizer said the purpose of the shutdown was to halt "the flow of capital." Does he not understand that a lot of this capital flows into the pockets of farmers, businesses and workers?
Attacking a port is like declaring war on U.S. agriculture and commerce.
Here in the American heartland, we don’t appreciate this assault on our livelihoods. Nor do we like the ugly turn this political movement has chosen to take.
When the Occupy Wall Street protests began and then spread to Oakland and other cities, I didn’t necessarily agree with what its participants were saying. But neither did I think they were a menace to society. They were simply Americans exercising their rights to assemble and speak out in a time of economic anxiety.
On November 3 in Oakland, however, many of them stopped playing by the traditional rules of civil disobedience. A peaceful movement turned violent.
"Several thousands of people converged" on Oakland’s port, according to the Associated Press, "swarming the area and blocking exits and streets with illegally parked vehicles and hastily erected chain-link fences."
The port shut down.
The mob even harassed individual workers. That evening, reported the Bay Citizen, "about 200 protestors surged toward a white pickup truck driven by a longshoreman trying to make his way home." (Eventually, they let him go.)
Suddenly, "the 99 percent" faced a new threat--and it came from the very people who claim to represent their interests.
"Any additional missed shifts represent economic hardship for maritime workers, truckers, and their families, as well as lost jobs and lost tax revenue for our region," warned the port in a statement. "Continued disruptions will begin to lead to re-routing of cargo and permanent loss of jobs."
Sadly, Occupy Oakland’s acts of economic vandalism and personal intimidation failed to satisfy the protestors and their hunger for destruction. Hours later, they rioted in the streets, scrawling graffiti, breaking windows, and hurling Molotov cocktails.
One local businessman, Phil Tagami, defended his downtown building by standing outside of it with a shotgun. "I support a peaceful protest," he said to the San Francisco Chronicle. "But it was a siege situation last night."
These accounts reminded me of what I saw in Seattle a dozen years ago, when political activists showed up at a meeting of the World Trade Organization. I saw the smoke, smelled the tear gas, and escaped with nothing worse than a pair of bent glasses. But I also came to realize that just beneath the allegedly good intentions of many protest movements lurks a brutal anarchy.
American workers and farmers don’t need shuttered ports. We need bigger and busier ports that can handle the commerce of a globalized economy, allowing us to sell goods and services made in the U.S.A. to buyers in foreign lands.
How else are we to meet President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015?
The good news is that the Port of Oakland has reopened. The chaos appears to have subsided. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the Occupy protestors to create a single job.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

Three Billion Acres of GM Crops and Counting!

Nov 03, 2011

 By Richard Dijkstra:  Ponta Grossa, Parana, Brazil

As winter approaches in the United States and the rest of the northern hemisphere, here in the southern hemisphere it’s springtime. That means we’ve started planting. And sometime on Friday, November 4, a farmer will put a seed in the ground and make agricultural history: He (or she) will plant the world’s 3 billionth acre of GM crops.
We don’t know exactly where it will happen, so there won’t be any fireworks or parades. It could be in my country of Brazil.  It will almost certainly be in South America where an early planting season is now underway. We’re confident about the timing because Truth about Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group, has kept track of the world’s biotech-crop acreage for years, based on official reports from governments around the world.
All this counting up has produced a very, very large number.
How big is 3 billion acres? It’s bigger than the Amazon rainforest. It’s bigger than all of Brazil. It’s big enough to say with absolute certainty that biotechnology is now a thoroughly conventional variety of agriculture.
Farmers are switching to GM crops because they make so much sense. Yields rise. Costs fall. Genetically-enhanced crops are better for the environment because they promote no-till approaches that conserve soil. They also reduce the pressure to convert wilderness into farmland.
They fight world hunger as well. A new study from Graham Brookes of PG Economics shows that biotechnology has increased global farm production dramatically. Soybean harvests are 83 million tons greater than they would be without genetic modification. Corn harvests are up even more, by 130 million tons.
Without biotechnology, we wouldn’t be able to come anywhere close to supplying the world’s demand for food.
On my farm, we started planting GM crops in 2003, as soon as biotech soybeans became available in Brazil. We added corn in 2008. These were easy decisions and my only wish is that they had become available even sooner.
Now biotechnology is here to stay and it’s getting even better.
A new development holds great promise both for Brazil’s small farmers and its malnourished people. One of my country’s favorite national dishes is rice and beans. Low-income consumers depend on it as a staple food and small farmers depend on it because their livelihood comes from growing the ingredients.
Yet a deadly parasite makes the work difficult. In Brazil, white flies attack our beans, spreading the golden mosaic virus, which can devastate whole fields of crops.
Advances in biotechnology now offer a solution. Brazilian farmers will have the opportunity to grow beans that are genetically modified to resist the disease, giving them the strength they need to fight off the threat. The health of farmers will improve, too. Until recently, their most effective tool for crop protection had been weekly applications of insecticide. With this new technology, that is not necessary any more.
The vast majority of biotech farmers are in fact small farmers who only work a few acres at a time. Many are women. GM crops would not have approached 3 billion acres this year without their enthusiasm for biotechnology and what it can do.
Soon, biotechnology will deliver yet another benefit, as we grow biofortified crops. These will deliver more proteins and vitamins for consumers, attacking the problem of malnourishment.
This is an important development. For years, the advocates of biotechnology have argued—correctly—the GM crops are no different from non-GM crops. When you cook them into food, not even scientists can tell the difference. Soon, however, we’ll be able to say that there is a difference. We’ll boast that biotech is better for you.
There’s only one group that doesn’t benefit from this trend: the enemies of biotechnology. They continue to haul out their exhausted, unproven complaints about GM crops, but with every new acre planted and harvested, their position becomes more unsustainable.
We often talk about biotechnology as a part of our future, but let’s also recognize that it has become an indelible feature of our present because 3 billion acres of it are now a part of our past.

Richard Franke Dijkstra farms with his family in Ponta Grossa, Parana, in southern Brazil.  They grow soybeans, edible beans, corn, wheat, barley, ray grass and black oats - 50% of the soybeans and corn they plant is GM and 100% of their farming operation is no-tillage.  Richard and his brother-in-law also operate a 480 cow dairy and raise 4000 hogs annually.  Richard is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.

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