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October 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.

“A Separate Peace” With Cuba

Oct 27, 2011

By Mary Boote: Des Moines, Iowa

 
In his earliest book of short stories, the author Ernest Hemingway has one soldier say to another: "You and me, we’ve made a separate peace." Hemingway liked the line so much that he repeated it in his great novel of the First World War, "A Farewell to Arms."
 
Today, the expression "a separate peace" is a favorite allusion of headline writers and other journalists. It’s almost as well known as "grace under pressure," another famous phrase that owes its popularity to Hemingway’s wordplay. It’s how Hemingway once defined "guts."
 
These terms come to mind with the news about a twist in the bitter relationship between the United States and Cuba--a twist that involves Hemingway, and one that may have lessons for the leaders of both countries.
 
Hemingway (1899-1961) is possibly the most important American writer of the 20th century. He was born outside of Chicago, spent his youthful summers in the woodlands of northern Michigan, and then traveled the world: He was an ambulance driver in Italy, an impoverished writer in Paris, a celebrated author in Key West, and, finally, a literary giant in Cuba.
 
He lived in Cuba for more than twenty years, enjoying the climate and the deep-sea fishing. "The Old Man and the Sea," the short novel that helped him win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, takes place off its shores.
 
Because of this close association, the people of Cuba adopted Hemingway long ago, regarding him almost as an honorary Cuban.
 
I understand the attraction. Hemingway is a larger-than-life figure who ran with the bulls in Spain, hunted big game in Africa, and wrote classics such as "The Sun Also Rises" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
 
On a recent visit to Key West, I walked outside the house where Hemingway once lived and also looked in on Sloppy Joe’s, his famous haunt (which has actually moved from its original location). This summer, I read "The Paris Wife," the best-selling novel by Paula McLain, which tells the story of Hemingway and his long-suffering first wife, Hadley Richardson.
 
Soon, we’re going to know more about Hemingway than ever before. Cambridge University Press has just put out the first volume of "The Letters of Ernest Hemingway," edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon. In the coming years, the publisher expects to release some 15 books in the series, covering the entire span of Hemingway’s life.
 
The books will include letters that Hemingway kept in Cuba. This is a significant development because it will help scholars and Hemingway buffs gain insights that were previously unavailable.
 
That’s because shortly after Hemingway’s death, the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro seized his property, vowing to turn it into a museum. Yet for five decades, most visitors have been denied access and the contents of his papers, stored in a cellar, have remained a mystery.
 
It was a Cold War conundrum, a small controversy amid a larger dilemma. As leaders in Washington and Havana glared at each other across the Straits of Florida, a valuable archive of Hemingway material remained off limits.
 
Several years ago, however, relations began to thaw--and the papers that Hemingway left in Cuba are now becoming available. More than 3,000 pages are conserved at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston and the letters will surface in the series of books from Cambridge University Press.
 
"Their value cannot be overstated," writes A. Scott Berg in the October issue of Vanity Fair, in an article that describes how scholars behaved as diplomats to gain access to this priceless trove.
 
Relations between the United States and Cuba remain tense, and perhaps they’ll stay that way as long as Cuba’s government denies basic freedoms to its people.
 
Yet the story of the Hemingway papers suggests that we have alternatives to continued adversity. Cooperation can produce good results--not just in the exchange of ideas and information for professors, but also in the trade of goods and services between ordinary Americans and Cubans.
 
It may take some guts, but perhaps it’s time for the United States and Cuba to negotiate "a separate peace."
 
Mary Boote serves as Executive Director for Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

 

At Last

Oct 20, 2011

 By Dean Kleckner: Des Moines, Iowa

 
At last!
 
After five years of exhausting struggle, Congress finally has approved a trio of free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. They’ll create thousands of jobs in the United States, lower prices for consumers, and generate billions of dollars in business opportunities for American-made products and commodities.
 
All told, the agreements will provide a much-needed jolt to an economy that suffers from an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent. Think of this trade package as a jobs bill that doesn’t require the federal government to spend more money or to drive itself deeper into debt.
 
There’s plenty of credit to go around.
 
Let’s start with President Obama. He campaigned for the White House as a protectionist who threatened to renege on important international obligations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. After his election, however, Obama felt the weight of the responsibility that comes with occupying the Oval Office--and he had the courage to change his mind on trade, even though it also required him to stand up to powerful special interests within his own party.
 
At times, the president frustrated his newfound allies. Some of us questioned his devotion to the cause of trade. In the end, however, he made good on his commitments, even persuading the UAW to get behind the agreement with South Korea, which is America’s most significant trade deal since NAFTA.
 
Now Obama can claim a substantial victory that will help him achieve his goal of doubling American exports by 2015.
 
His predecessor also deserves high praise. President George W. Bush and his trade representatives negotiated these deals. Without their vision and effort, the pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea never would have become realities.
 
If this were a baseball game, Bush would be the starting pitcher who earns a win and Obama would be the closer who gets a save in a bipartisan triumph.
 
The middle innings, however, were more than a little dicey, due to the obstructionism of Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Nancy Pelosi. For years, their firm opposition was an insurmountable hurdle. Whereas a number of Senate Democrats appeared ready to join their Republican colleagues in approving these trade agreements, House Democrats behaved as a disciplined bloc of protectionists. While they were in power, they exercised a functional veto over the enabling legislation. Then voters swept them out last November, solving the problem of partisan gridlock.
 
I’m still puzzled about why the passage of these trade agreements took most of the year. With the political pieces in place by January, they could have been approved months ago. Perhaps it shows that gridlock really is alive and well in Washington. Yet this happy ending also reveals that it’s possible to overcome the most entrenched habits of politicians. Last week’s series of votes are better late than never.
 
So what’s next for U.S. trade policy? Obama has talked up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential accord that could improve ties between the United States and a number of countries that surround the Pacific Rim. This would be a remarkable and worthwhile accomplishment, though it’s probably best understood as a long-term objective.
 
In the near term, the most important accomplishments may be defensive. Lawmakers must resist the protectionism that always tempts them during economic hard times and election years. One bad idea already is chugging through Congress. The Senate just approved a bill that would allow the federal government to identify nations that undervalue their currencies, define them as illegal subsidies, and slap special duties on their products.
 
The legislation has a single target: China.
 
As a law, this policy would produce two results. First, American consumers would pay more for products made in China. Second, China would retaliate against American-made goods and services, hurting our exports.
 
Here’s another thought: Instead of igniting a trade war with Beijing, what about negotiating a free-trade agreement?
 
Now that Obama has shown he can close a bilateral deal, maybe he should show us that he can start one.
 
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

A Kenyan Smallholder Speaks Up For Farmers Around the World

Oct 13, 2011

 

By Mary Boote: Des Moines, Iowa
 
As the World Food Prize Celebration and Norman Borlaug Symposium unfold in Des Moines, Iowa, a farmer from sub-Saharan Africa was able to interact with a top American official.
 
"Farmers must participate in the global economy by embracing and using new technologies, including those concerned with seed development," said Gilbert Arap Bor, who traveled to Des Moines from his native Kenya. "Cultivating crops from seed that has been genetically modified is economically viable and more productive than all other forms of farming now practiced."
 
Gilbert took advantage of an opportunity and asked a question of Jose Fernandez, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for economic, energy, and business affairs: What can the United States do to help farmers in the developing world take advantage of agricultural biotechnology?
 
This is vintage Gilbert. He draws from personal experience, knowing what it’s like to make ends meet as a smallholder farmer in the developing world. He has seen first-hand and expressed the desire for access to modern technology, shared by so many of his fellow farmers. And finally, he isn’t afraid to speak up in a setting that would have intimidated others.
 
It highlights why Gilbert Arap Bor is the 2011 recipient of the  Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, recognizing a global farmer who provides strong leadership, vision, and resolve in advocating the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will help them improve the quality, quantity, and availability of agricultural products around the world.
 
I first met Gilbert two years ago while visiting a Kenya Maize Development Program field demonstration near his home. I was on a fact-finding mission to learn more about African smallholder farming. He was involved in an agricultural project with ACDI/VOCA, a non-profit group, and working with a local community development group whose goal is to reduce poverty through sustainable economic development for the smallholder maize and livestock farmers of Kapseret Village.
 
In addition to learning more about the excellent yield improvements realized in this project (from 10-12 bags of maize per acre to 15-20 bags per acre), I was captivated by the youth enterprise development activity that had been started that year. Using football as the galvanizing activity, the youth were given 1 acre of maize to cultivate together. They proudly showed my group what they had learned and were able to report their own maize yield improvements! You could see how proud they were to participate in food production.
 
The experience brings to mind one of the late Norman Borlaug’s parting words of advice: "Take it to the farmers."
 
The next generation of farmers will have to grow more food than every generation before them, so Gilbert’s work with communities and youth is essential. Yet this is only one part of his portfolio in promoting global food security.
 
He’s also involved with establishing the Center for Food Security and Enterprise at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. It’s dedicated to helping the subsistence farmers of Kenya become surplus farmers who not only feed themselves but also sell a portion of what they grow.
 
This is an essential goal. We’ve all heard how agricultural productivity must increase if we’re to feed the world’s soaring population by 2050. One of our best opportunities lies in helping African farmers grow more by gaining access to the same technologies that U.S. farmers enjoy.
 
Gilbert is a true leader in this field. He played a significant role in Kenya’s recent debate over biotechnology, writing editorials for national newspapers and speaking on behalf of developing-world farmers whose voice often goes unheard. It now appears that he’ll soon have the opportunity to do something he has wanted to do for years on his 25-acre farm: Plant genetically modified corn and benefit from its higher productivity.
 
Proof of Gilbert’s commitment and influence are evident in Des Moines this week, as he posed his question to Assistant Secretary Fernandez.
 
"As Gilbert has so eloquently stated, the potential of biotechnology is great," said Fernandez. "We know that farmers are driving the adoption of the technology. They see a clear benefit in using biotechnology and are adopting by the millions: 15.4 million, according to the latest numbers."
 
Then he paid tribute to Gilbert in particular: "We need more people like Mr. Gilbert Arap Bor who are willing to educate and speak out about their desire for access to the technology."
 
I’m honored to know Gilbert and delighted to see him receive the recognition he so clearly deserves.
 
Mary Boote serves as Executive Director of Truth About Trade & Technology - www.truthabouttrade.org.
 

 

 

 

 

Controlling Food Borne Disease

Oct 06, 2011

John Rigolizzo Jr. – Berlin, New Jersey

 
They’re calling it the worst food-disease outbreak in more than a decade: Eighteen Americans are dead after eating cantaloupes contaminated by a type of bacteria known as Listeria. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 100 people in 20 states had fallen sick as of Tuesday. The grim numbers are expected to go up.
 
Nothing can change these terrible facts and figures. Families who lost loved ones are hurting and the sick are suffering through a painful, gut-wrenching illness.
 
Amid this tragedy, however, it’s possible to see the makings of a success story. In quick fashion, our food regulators discovered a problem, identified its source, and took steps to contain the damage. They spotted a bad situation and kept it from growing significantly worse.
 
And it’s possible that in the future, we could do even better.
 
Here’s what we know: The contaminated cantaloupes apparently came from a single farm in Colorado. They were distributed widely, often carrying a sticker that marked them as Rocky Ford Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms or distributed by Frontera Produce. On September 14, the Food and Drug Administration put out an alert and a recall was underway.
 
Without these actions, the Listeria outbreak almost certainly would have been worse--perhaps much worse.
 
We know how many people this case of food contamination has killed so far, but we don’t know how many people the actions of regulators have saved. All of us should be grateful for what they have done.
 
That includes farmers like me. One of the benefits of the current system of detection is that by pinpointing the origin of the problem, regulators can focus their attention on the true source of concern rather than on the entire cantaloupe industry. In the past--most recently in Europe--we’ve seen governments uproot whole fields in frantic attempts to halt problems they didn’t fully comprehend.
 
I’ve grown cantaloupes on my farm in New Jersey. The key to success is picking them at exactly the right time. A few hours can make all the difference. Sometimes cantaloupes that aren’t ready in the morning grow ripe by the afternoon and can’t wait until the next day. Farmers must keep track of sensitive timetables.
 
Cantaloupes also need a lot of protection. They have thin skins and require fungicide sprays to stay healthy. The recent outbreak is something of a surprise because Listeria is usually associated with meats. Precisely how the bacteria found its way into the cantaloupes is a question investigators are now studying. What they learn may help us keep cantaloupes everywhere safer.
 
A common step in cantaloupe processing involves dipping the fruits in disinfectants after they’re harvested. This is worth doing, but its effects don’t penetrate the skin of the fruit. If a disease lurks inside the cantaloupe, as seems to have been the case with Listeria, dipping won’t touch it.
 
Another approach may help. It’s called irradiation--a useful and effective technique with an unfortunate name that makes some consumers worry their food will glow in the dark. Yet brief exposure to x-rays or gamma rays can wipe out an enormous amount of food-borne illnesses. It would also extend the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables.
 
Unfortunately today, irradiation remains an exception in food processing rather than the norm. This must change--and perhaps change should begin with a successful rebranding.
 
More than a century ago, the British doctor Joseph Lister pioneered the idea of antiseptic surgery--the idea that sterile equipment would prevent new infections in patients. His name survives on bottles of Listerine, which kills germs that cause bad breath.
 
Listeria also takes its moniker from Dr. Lister, even though it wasn’t discovered until after his death. I’m not sure I’d want a family of bacteria named after me, but the scientists who named Listeria intended to honor the doctor for his contributions to human health.
 
So here’s a thought. Let’s give irradiation a new name. Let’s call it “listerization”--like “pasteurization,” named after Louis Pasteur--and encourage its use as a life-saving tool of the modern food industry.
 
If we’re serious about controlling food-borne diseases, it’s a step we must take.
 
John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm produces for retail and wholesale markets. John is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
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