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May 2013 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.

Using Technology to Reduce Our Farming Footprint for World Environment Day

May 30, 2013

By Gabriel Carballal:  Mercedes, Uruguay

Farmers believe that every day should be for the environment, because we depend on the environment to produce the food the world demands. We need good plants, good soil, and good weather. Without a good environment, we’re helpless.

That’s why we must take advantage of opportunities such as next week’s World Environment Day. Think of it as a second Earth Day. Each June 5, the United Nations sponsors WED. This year’s theme is "Think.Eat.Save." Organizers have a specific request: "reduce your footprint." 

Here on my farm in Uruguay, that’s what we do all year round, thanks to advances in technology.

My family farms almost 6,000 hectares (roughly 15,000 acres) near the town of Mercedes, in Soriano. Our most important crops are soybeans, but we also grow corn, sorghum, wheat, barley, canola, oats, and grass seeds. The weather is variable but we never see snow, which allows us to plant for 12 months. 

We started growing GM crops 16 years ago. It became obvious immediately that they’re excellent for conservation. 

As the website for WED points out, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the world’s deforestation. This is the result of pressure to convert wilderness into farmland, to keep pace with a booming global population. To protect what remains, we must produce more food on less land—and that’s exactly what biotechnology lets us do. 

The first year we planted GM soybeans on our farm, in 1997, we tried it on 30 hectares. The results were amazing. Within two years, we had converted entirely to GM soybeans. When biotechnology came to corn in 2004, we quickly switched to it as well. Genetic enhancement drove our yields upward because these excellent crops are so good at fighting weeds and pests. 

Our experience shows that science can help us produce more with less—the very definition of sustainable agriculture. 

There are other benefits as well. We’re now able to do a much better job of maintaining natural pastures for a combined crop-cattle operation. This helps us preserve biodiversity. 

Best of all, however, is our no-till farming system. Soil erosion is a huge challenge for farmers around the planet, but our soil is actually improving each year. Our crops pump carbon into the soil, and we can keep it there because we no longer need to fight weeds by tilling the soil after harvesting. At the end of the growing season, we simply leave the straw on top of the soil. 

A friend of mine, Carlos Crovetto of Chile, puts it well: "Grains are for the people, straw and residues are for the soil."

GM crops make this possible. 

Here’s another statistic from the WED website: Agriculture is responsible for 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And here’s another benefit of biotechnology: Because we plant GM crops, our greenhouse gas emissions have dropped sharply. We’re doing our part to combat climate change.

I can plant all of my fields with just two big tractors, an air drill, a planter, a big sprayer, and two combines. I’ve seen much smaller farms that use a lot more equipment, spewing out carbon emissions at a far higher rate than we do.

GM crops allow us to reduce the number of times we have to drive over our fields, which means that our environmental footprint has shrunk.

It’s like we’ve reduced our shoe size. When does that ever happen?

Other advantages are harder to spot but they’re equally real. Consider tire wear. I can buy a tractor, use if for 8,000 hours, and sell it with the same tires. This is important because petroleum is an important ingredient in tire manufacturing. The more use we can get out of our tires, the better—it’s good for my bottom line as well as for the environment.

Unfortunately, many nations resist biotech crops because they don’t understand the benefits. Farmers like me in South America already know why GM farming makes sense, as do farmers in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.

If we’re going to continue reducing footprints around the world, what we must do is spread the word—and on World Environment Day, the United Nations should help us.

Gabriel Carballal farms with his father in Mercedes, Uruguay, growing soybeans, corn, wheat, barley, canola, oats, grass seeds, sorghum and raise beef.  Gabriel is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).  Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Azevedo Goes to Geneva

May 23, 2013

 By Dean Kleckner:  Des Moines, Iowa

 

With the election of Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, it’s time to hope for a "Nixon goes to China" moment. 

In 1972, President Nixon traveled to Communist China and met with Mao Zedong, marking a new and more productive phase for relations between the United States and China. It was also a diplomatic feat that only a political leader with Nixon’s anti-Communist credentials could have pulled off. Just about anybody else would have suffered dearly in the fallout.

Perhaps in the future, we’ll speak of "Azevedo goes to Geneva." 

That’s because the Brazilian, who will assume the position of Director General in September, may be just the person to revive the WTO at a turning point in its history.

Several commentators were quick to express skepticism about Azevedo. "Brazil has not been the most positive partner at the WTO," said Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, in the Wall Street Journal. "Brazil doesn’t have the best credentials to lead the WTO. As a country that tends to be protectionist, it’s not a great champion of a multilateral trading system."

The European Union favored a different candidate, Herminio Blanco of Mexico. The United States remained officially neutral, though many Americans also seemed to prefer Blanco over Azevedo because he helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Whereas Mexico appears to have embraced global free trade, Brazil recently has moved to protect its own favored industries, even though it already has one of the world’s lowest rates of trade to GDP.

Despite these concerns, Azevedo may have a tremendous upside: Developing countries trust him as a champion of their interests. This could prove important, because they’ve become an obstacle to completing a new multilateral trade agreement that improves the flow of goods and services around the world. 

In 2001, the WTO launched the "Doha round" of world trade talks. Yet these negotiations quickly fell into a stalemate. For all practical purposes, Doha is dead--and it’s been dead for a long time.

Its failure springs from many sources and there’s plenty of blame to spread around. Yet developing nations may have presented the most significant hurdle. Many of them approached the talks looking for a handout, believing that wealthier countries should make concessions, almost out of charity. They didn’t seem to understand the importance of opening their own markets to competition--and that any successful agreement involves a give and take from both sides.

Brazil played a central role in all of this. As a result, many developing countries believe Azevedo will be an ally at the WTO.  

And they may be right, though not in quite the way they expect. Rather than convincing wealthy nations to rethink their own Doha strategies, the main challenge for Azevedo will be to persuade developing countries to reconsider past approaches.

Success is essential. As Azevedo noted at a news conference last week, the WTO "is clearly stuck." He must now get it unstuck--and it may take a figure with his special credibility among the leaders of developing nations to make it happen.

If the WTO doesn’t come unstuck, it will still serve the useful function of arbitrating disputes between its members. Yet it will have lost one of its chief purposes, which is to lower trade barriers. 

It’s good to have big goals, but perhaps the WTO should think about playing small ball, at least for a short while. The Doha round was a swing for the fences. At this crucial juncture, however, it may be wiser to hope for a mere base hit--not a swing and a miss, but a solid knock that keeps the inning alive.

One idea may be to admit what everyone knows: Doha is dead, and it’s time to move on. Perhaps we need an entirely new round, with a new name.

That won’t magically change the geopolitical dynamics that caused WTO to reach its current impasse. Yet it could be an essential public-relations maneuver that revives global trade--and creates an opportunity for Azevedo to go to Geneva. 

 

Dean Kleckner is Chairman Emeritus for Truth About Trade & Technology   (www.truthabouttrade.org).  Follow us:  @TruthaboutTrade on Twitter / Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

The USDA of Europe

May 17, 2013

 

By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa

When Americans speculate that the United States is "becoming Europe," we don’t mean that our art museums are getting a lot better.

Instead, we worry about the encroachments of a growing bureaucracy that is smothering freedom and innovation.

Last Friday, in an unexpected announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took an unfortunate step toward Europeanization when it delayed the approval of two crops that will help farmers control weeds and produce more food. The decision didn’t receive much immediate attention outside the agricultural press, but it sent a troubling signal about the future of farm technology that should concern all Americans. 

At the heart of the controversy lie a couple of time-tested herbicides: dicamba and 2,4-D. Scientists have figured out a way for staple crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton to resist these chemicals, which means that farmers can control weeds without hurting the plants they’re trying to grow. 

This is hardly a radical development. As the USDA acknowledged last week, these herbicides "have been safely and widely used across the country since the 1960s." My father was using 2,4-D even before that, in the 1950s. It was the first herbicide he ever applied to his fields. It’s also one of the top ingredients in the weed-and-feed formulas that Americans apply to their lawns and gardens.

So why the sudden delay? Environmentalists complained that the introduction of these new crops will lead to the overuse of the two herbicides. This claim is at best unproven. Farmers certainly must pay attention to the development of herbicide resistance in weeds, but the answer to this problem is the advent of new technologies that keep us one step ahead of weed adaptations. 

In other words, these new crops are part of the solution—and keeping safe products away from farmers just makes it harder for us to grow the food our country needs. 

Farmers rely on effective methods of crop protection, including weed control. With them, we can grow more food on less land—and thereby reduce the pressure to convert wilderness into farmland. Environmentalists ought to join farmers in search of new conservation technologies, not oppose us in their safe implementation.

Of greater concern to me is the fact that the Center for Food Safety had threatened to sue the USDA if it didn’t perform an environmental impact study on its own initiative.  These traits had already been under review by USDA for 3 years with no evidence of potential harm to humans or the environment.  Using litigation to slow down or ban a safe product should concern all of us!

Farmers lose either way.  The USDA’s bad decision means that these new crops won’t go on the market and be available to me and other farmers next year, as previously planned. Now we’ll have to wait until 2015 at the soonest. This postponement may not sound like much, but it contributes to a disturbing trend. In the United States, it’s becoming harder and harder to introduce new agricultural technologies.   

America has led the world in boosting crop yields. Food is safer, more abundant, and more affordable than ever before. Rather than cheering on our ingenuity, however, bureaucrats increasingly want to hold it back.

We’re watching a major slowdown in new crop approvals. We’ve gone from leading to it now taking the United States three times as long as Argentina and Brazil to approve a new technology. The U.S. is going backwards while Brazil and Argentina are moving forward by effectively using internationally agreed upon science-based regulations.  Innovation in agriculture technology has always has been one of the American farmer’s great advantages over his food-producing competitors. Now we’re handing it away, and for no good reason. 

We need to return to sensible, science-based regulations—not shifting sands and unpredictable decrees from bureaucrats.

Europe already has traveled far down this fateful path. Its embrace of the "precautionary principle" has made it all but impossible to approve agricultural innovations, stifling the continent’s biotech industry. European farmers envy Americans, who can plant genetically modified crops. USDA’s decision on herbicide-resistant plants suggests that they may not be so envious in the future. 

Earlier this year, the British writer Samuel Gregg published "Becoming Europe," a book on economic and cultural trends in the United States. He urged Americans to reject Europeanization and embrace their freedom-loving heritage. He also quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century Frenchman who studied our country: "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."

So here’s a message for USDA’s bureaucrats: Waste no time in repairing your crop-protection fault. 

Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm.  He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

USTR Nominee Froman is a Good Sign for a Robust US Trade Agenda

May 09, 2013

 By Dean Kleckner:  Des Moines, Iowa

 

When President Obama nominated Michael Froman as U.S. Trade Representative last week, he cracked a joke about an old friend. 

"We went to law school together," said the president. "He was much smarter than me then. He continues to be smarter than me now."

Is Froman really smarter than President Obama, who graduated with highest honors from Harvard Law School? Who cares? The important point is that the men were students together more than two decades ago, when they labored over issues of the Harvard Law Review and built a personal bond that may hold the key to jump starting America’s trade agenda.

The Senate should move swiftly to confirm Froman, so that he can move on and push for the trade agreements with Asia and Europe that hold enormous potential to fuel economic growth and create jobs in the United States. 

Froman is currently the president’s deputy national security advisor for international affairs. He has represented the president at meetings of the G8 and G20. President Obama has credited Froman with helping secure final approval of the free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. 

So Froman’s resume looks promising. Yet the thing that matters most may be his personal connection to the president: Froman has the president’s ear.

News reports indicate that after Harvard, the two men fell out of touch. In 2004, however, Froman learned that Obama was running for the Senate from Illinois. So he contacted his old pal, offered his services, and has been a close advisor ever since.

Froman knew Obama before it was cool.

This really matters. For a U.S. Trade Representative to succeed, he must enjoy the complete confidence of the White House. But that’s not sufficient. He also needs to have constant access to the president. If trade talks bog down, Froman will be able to phone the Oval Office--and know that President Obama will take his call and help him maintain positive momentum.

Perceptions are important as well. Trade diplomats from Brussels to Tokyo will know that Froman has a direct line to Obama--a fact that will encourage them to take Froman seriously as a negotiating partner.  

This may carry a special payoff right now. The World Trade Organization is on the verge of selecting a new leader, meaning that the United States and the WTO could improve a troubled relationship.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who left office two months ago, was in many ways a capable man. And he was a political ally of the president, but not an old friend. This may have played a small part in the Obama administration’s sluggish first-term trade agenda. 

President Obama has talked a good game on trade, promising to double exports by 2015 and to pursue ambitious agreements with Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world.

The reality, however, however, has failed to match the rhetoric. Exports have not grown as quickly as the president vowed. The Trans Pacific Partnership remains a tantalizing possibility rather than a done deal. Trade talks with the European Union have yet to achieve liftoff. The Doha round of WTO negotiations is kaput. 

Last year, President Obama even suggested eliminating the office of U.S. Trade Representative, combining its duties with those of the Secretary of Commerce. Although the federal government should strive to reduce its bureaucratic bulk, this was a lousy idea. The United States needs a cabinet-level official whose exclusive portfolio is trade diplomacy. 

The fact that President Obama nominated Froman on the same day he announced the nomination of Penny Pritzker as Commerce Secretary suggests that the president has abandoned the plan to consolidate these two jobs. This is a welcome development.

To a certain extent, however, Froman’s abilities and authority are just details. More than anything else, a robust trade agenda requires a president who is fully committed to breaking down barriers that prevent the flow of goods and service across borders.

The nomination of Froman is a good sign. Now the Senate should do its part to help the Obama-Froman friendship move into its next and most important phase.

Dean Kleckner is Chairman Emeritus of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

A Forward-Looking Kenya Can Lead the Global Biotech Movement

May 02, 2013

  

By Gilbert Arap Bor:  Kapseret, Kenya

A newly elected government provides a country with a rare opportunity for a fresh start—and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nomination this week of Felix Kiptarus Kosgey to become Kenya’s next Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries offers my nation a remarkable opening to make a hard push for real food security.

Success, however, will require President Kenyatta, his deputy Ruto, Agriculture Secretary nominee Kosgey, and the rest of our new government to set aside the bad mistakes of the recent past and embrace the bright future of biotechnology.

There’s every reason to hope that they will. At the launch of the Jubilee Coalition manifesto in February, Kenyatta and Ruto promised to "put food and water on every Kenyan’s table." At his inauguration on April 9, Kenyatta reaffirmed his government will implement the manifesto in total.

This is both a tall order and a worthy goal—and one of the surest ways to achieve it is by accepting the latest advances in agricultural biotechnology, recognizing that they have become conventional practices in many countries and should become so here as well.

Everywhere farmers have had the chance, they have adopted genetically modified crops. Last year, more than 17 million farmers around the world planted more than 170 million hectares of GM crops, according to a new report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

This is an all-time high. Moreover, farmers in poor countries made it possible: For the first time, developing nations accounted for more than half of the world’s GM crop plantings.

Unfortunately, as much as Kenyan farmers have hailed the Green Revolution of the 20th century, they have not yet participated in this Gene Revolution of the 21st century.

Our scientists have made strides toward developing biotech crops that would flourish in our soil and climate, but a toxic mix of scientific illiteracy and political pressure has prevented the commercialization of these promising plants. To make matters even worse, the previous government banned the importation of GM foods into Kenya and ordered the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation to remove all GM foods from the shelves of grocery stores.

This tragic decision came last November, in the wake of a controversial French study that claimed to find a connection between GM food and tumors in rats. The results were immediately widely debunked by renowned scientists from around the world. Yet the political activists whose personal ideology opposes agricultural biotechnology—many of them wealthy Europeans who don’t have to wonder about their next meal—managed to smear a vital tool for fighting hunger.

Kenyatta’s cabinet, guided by Agriculture Secretary nominee Kosgey cannot move swiftly enough to overturn the previous government’s misbegotten ban on GM food. It may be the single most significant step they can take to improve our nation’s food security.

They should accept what respected organizations ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Britain’s Royal Society have said for a long time: GM food is safe to grow and eat. We have nothing to fear from it—and so much to gain.

Sub-Saharan Africa lags the world in food production. While farmers in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the United States have jumped at the chance to take advantage of high-yielding GM crops, farmers in Kenya and its neighbors have been relegated to the sidelines.

Last year, Sudan became only the fourth African country to permit the planting of GM crops, following the leads of Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa.

The boost in farm productivity alone is enough to justify Kenya’s adoption of crop biotechnology, because it would help us feed a growing population. But the benefits would not stop there. Improved access to GM seeds would create jobs by supplying the raw materials for our textile industries. Everyone would benefit.

It would be great to see Kenya join the global biotech movement. Even better, though, would be to watch a truly forward-looking Kenya not merely join, but lead.  

Kenyatta and Kosgey should refuse to let our continent continue to fall behind the rest of the world. With the proper leadership, they can show Africa the way to a better tomorrow—and a future in which we enjoy true food security.

Gilbert Arap Bor grows corn (maize), vegetables and dairy cows on a small-scale farm of 25 acres in Kapseret, near Eldoret, Kenya.  He also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret campus.  Mr. Bor is the 2011 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient and a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

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