One of the breakout sessions of the USDA Ag Outlook Forum focused on challenges in trading with the European Union. Considering President Barack Obama's announcement of the start of talks regarding a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union at the State of the Union address last week, this topic seems especially timely. The three panelist at this session seemed to concur that there is no shortage of challenges to reaching such an agreement.
Constance Cullman, U.S. Federal Government Affairs Leader with Dow AgroSciences, delivered a presentation on the regulatory and political climate of biotechnology in the EU. One of the main takeaways from her presentation was that while the current EU regulatory and legislative framework is technically workable, political intervention into the process has impeded predictable implementation.
Cullman says this has negative effects such as making it necessary for Europe to "import more land" to feed consumers, stifling innovation and encouraging the best researchers and labs to leave the region.
Looking ahead, Cullman says she does not anticipate any major changes in attitudes or approach to biotechnology in the European Union, as western EU consumers have not shown any major signs of "heartburn" about paying a large portion of their paychecks on food.
Jim Sutter, CEO of U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) focused on efforts by both the European Union and the United States toward achieving sustainability in soybeans and across the commodity sector. One major hurdle on this issue relative to trade between the U.S. and EU is that while the U.S. prefers an aggregate approach to sustainability, via conservation laws, annual third party audits and the like, Europe prefers a farm-by-farm approach to sustainability certification.
Sutter emphasized that getting ahead on this issue of sustainability, which is becoming more and more important to global consumers, could give the U.S. a competitive advantage in the years ahead.
The final presenter at this session was Thad Lively, senior vice president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. He took attendees through the 1989 to present-day saga on the hormone dispute between the European Union and the U.S., which is still not on a very favorable path when one looks closely at U.S. beef exports to the bloc.
According to Lively, the "big picture" is that permitting countries to maintain non-science-based measures comes at a price to global welfare, including reduced investment in productivity-enhancing technology, reduced agriculture trade and reduced global food security.
Lively concluded that the U.S. must strike a balance between defending its principles and maintaining access to markets when it comes to trade relations.