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March 2012 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.

The Politics of Exports and Jobs

Mar 29, 2012

 By John Reifsteck: Champaign, Illinois



Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary on Saturday, pumping new life into his campaign following last week’s big win by Mitt Romney in Illinois, where I live. The battle for the GOP nomination probably will stretch into summer. "The race is long and far from over," said Santorum.


That means the former senator from Pennsylvania will keep on talking about how to create jobs in an economy with an unemployment rate that floats above 8 percent.


One of the best ways is with exports--and Santorum should tell a positive story about how his own view on free trade has evolved from occasional skepticism to a full embrace of how much our economy benefits when goods and services flow across borders.


Santorum can start with what he’s proposing right now. On his 32-point economic plan, boosting exports is item no. 19: "Negotiate 5 Free Trade Agreements and submit to Congress in first year of Presidency."


That’s an ambitious agenda. President Obama has been in office for more than three years but he has managed only three deals. He deserves enormous credit for completing the pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea--each one will help our economy.


So five free-trade agreements in 12 months is a tall order. Yet it’s also a worthy goal. He is looking in the right direction.


Santorum does have some experience with helping trade agreements move through Congress. As a senator, he voted to approve deals with Australia, Chile, Morocco, Oman, and Singapore, plus the Central American Free Trade Agreement. He also favored Trade Promotion Authority, which presidents must have to engage in serious trade talks with other countries.


Yet Santorum was no free-trade purist. In fact, there’s a big blemish on his voting record. Almost 20 years ago, he had a chance to join a bipartisan majority and deliver a job-creating jolt to the U.S. economy--but he turned it down.


In 1993, Santorum came out against the North American Free Trade Agreement, in what the Club for Growth has described as "perhaps the most important free trade vote of the last generation."


Santorum, who hails from the Pittsburg area, said he was worried about the fate of the steel industry. "NAFTA will produce pockets of winners and losers across the country," he said. "Our area is unfortunately one of the losers."


It wasn’t that simple--certainly not for Pennsylvania. The Keystone State currently exports more than $2 billion per year to Mexico, according to Christopher Wilson in "Working Together," a report for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Almost a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians owe their jobs to the Mexican market. Metal manufacturing alone accounted for $467 million of Pennsylvania’s exports to Mexico last year.


When Santorum voted against NAFTA, he explained his opposition this way: "You have to stare in the face of the folks you represent." He went on to support steel tariffs, again because he thought his constituents needed the government to shield them from international competition.


The President of the United States must represent the whole of the United States, not just one part of it--and NAFTA has benefited everyone. Today, Mexico is the second-largest destination for U.S. exports. About one in 24 American workers receives a steady paycheck because of the goods and services that flow to Mexico. Trade with Canada, our other NAFTA partner, also creates millions of jobs in the United States.


Santorum should acknowledge that he has learned from his mistake. The Pennsylvania primary is on April 24--that would provide an excellent opportunity for Santorum to say that as president, he will set aside the parochialism of his past and support trade policies that will help Americans everywhere. Saying so in front of his old constituents would signal to the rest of the country that he’s serious about creating jobs through trade.


Exports generate jobs--and one of the most important jobs of the president is to generate exports.


John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in western Champaign County Illinois.  He serves as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology.   www.truthabouttrade.org

Mr. President: It’s Time to Ask For (and Receive) Trade Promotion Authority

Mar 22, 2012

By Dean Kleckner:  Des Moines, Iowa



In its just-released 2012 Trade Policy Agenda, the Obama administration took credit for recent accomplishments, such as completing a free-trade agreement with South Korea, which went into force last week. It also looked forward to future possibilities, such as finishing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that would improve the economic ties of the Pacific Rim nations.


Yet the administration said hardly a word about the one thing it will need before it can achieve any new breakthroughs in trade diplomacy: Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which calls on Congress to give pending trade agreements an up-or-down vote in a reasonable period of time.


In truth, the nearly 400-page report devoted a sentence to TPA: "The Obama administration will explore issues regarding additional trade promotion authority necessary to approve the TPP and future trade agreements."


A whole sentence!


That’s a pretty weak commitment. When politicians promise to "explore issues," you can bet they aren’t about to embark on courageous voyages of discovery. Instead, they’re hoping the issues in question will go away.


Here’s a sentence of my own: Without TPA, there can be no serious trade policy discussion--or at least not one that’s worth much. When President Bush had it, his negotiators were able to forge several pacts, including the one with South Korea. President Obama should also have TPA, as should all presidents.


This month, we’re seeing a clear picture of how trade expansion helps the U.S. economy. As our new trade agreement with South Korea went into effect, Evan Ramstad of the Wall Street Journal reported from the docks: "In Busan, South Korea’s second-largest port city, several warehouses in a customs holding area were filled with frozen fish from the U.S., ready for official entry Thursday when a 10 percent tariff drops to zero."


An official estimated that 2,000 tons of fish from the United States were about to enter South Korea, which is American’s eighth-largest trading partner. The tariff on cars built in the United States dropped from 8 percent to 4 percent, making Fords and Chevys more affordable in Seoul. This is one reason why the United Autoworkers Union set aside its traditional opposition to trade agreements and endorsed this one.


The Obama administration expects that when the trade deal is fully implemented, it will boost U.S. exports to South Korea by $11 billion annually. It will also support 70,000 American jobs. That’s more jobs than there are people in many medium-sized cities.


As it happens, a bunch of those jobs really will be in Iowa, as well as other areas that depend on farming. Last fall, when Congress approved the free-trade agreement with South Korea, it also approved deals with Colombia and Panama. When the Latin American pacts go into effect, they will combine with the South Korean trade agreement to boost U.S. agricultural exports by $2.3 billion per year.


These gains are essential if President Obama is to meet his goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015--a pledge he made two years ago, in his State of the Union address.


Success also will require new agreements, so that products and services can flow more freely between the United States and foreign markets. The 2012 Trade Policy Agenda rightly points to TPP, a multilateral agreement that currently includes the United States and eight partners. The markets in these nations are worth $89 billion to American exporters. They currently support half a million U.S. jobs.


By lowering tariffs for American goods and services, TPP will create even more economic opportunity. If Canada, Japan, and Mexico enter the talks--something they may do soon--the potential gains rise considerably.


Yet none of it will matter unless the president has Trade Promotion Authority.  President Obama should ask for it--in fact, he should demand it, far more vigorously than he has in the 2012 Trade Policy Agenda.


Right now, President Obama’s legacy on trade is to have completed the unfinished business of the Bush years. If the president wants to make gains of his own--and TPP surely counts--he’ll need Trade Promotion Authority.


The first step is to ask for it.


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


A Portuguese Farmer’s Request for the Freedom to Choose Technology

Mar 15, 2012

To Help Feed The World, We Must Have Science-Based Decisions By The European Commission
By Gabriela Cruz:  Elvas, Portugal

We can buy it but we can’t grow it.
That’s how crazy the European Union’s policies on biotech food have become. Regulators let us purchase livestock feed derived from genetically modified crops, but only if it’s produced abroad. We’re forbidden to grow these exact same plants on our own farms.
It makes no sense, and Europe’s illogical hostility to advanced agricultural technology costs us dearly.
In January, BASF--the world’s largest chemical company, headquartered in Germany--said that it would shift its plant-science operations to Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s great news for the people of the United States, who will now gain all of the job-creating benefits that come with economic growth.
Here in Europe, however, the move is a tragedy.
"The BASF decision is not good for Europe," said Carel du Marchie Sarvaas of EuropaBio. "It is the reaction of a quintessentially European company to what is a stifling political and regulatory environment. ... Research, jobs, and money will go where it is welcomed."
BASF is hardly alone. Just a week after the German company made its big announcement, Monsanto said that it would pull away from the European market and quit trying to sell insect-resistant corn in France.
Until Europe decides to stop turning its back on the future of food production, innovators and entrepreneurs will continue to flee.
The case for biotech crops is clear: They produce better yields, require less water and fewer chemicals, and deliver environmental benefits. I know this from personal experience because I’ve been planting and harvesting Bt corn in Portugal since 2006. It’s the one kind of biotech crop I can raise here--and I wish I had the freedom to try other varieties, like farmers in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and so many other countries.
Since 1996, farmers around the world have harvested more than 3 billion acres of biotech crops. Last year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), almost 17 million of them participated. The vast majority are smallholders in developing countries.
European farmers accounted for only a tiny fraction of the total--so few as to be irrelevant.  Nations such as Burkina Faso, Myanmar, and Uruguay are friendlier to biotechnology than the most advanced countries of Europe. 
I wish the European Union would put its full faith in the "Declaration for Farmer Choice," a set of principles that recognize the importance of access to sustainable technologies that will help farmers feed the world.
There are occasional signs of common sense. In Brussels last fall, at a meeting convened by the European Commission, I saw new resistance to anti-biotech organizations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Their representatives arrived with their worn-out, polarizing statements--and policymakers met them with skepticism. Their unsubstantiated claims may not be taken at face value much longer, especially if farmers, scientists, and businesses keep on speaking out about the importance of agricultural biotechnology.
In Britain, a well-known environmental activist, Mark Lynas, recently changed his mind about GM crops. "There hasn’t been a single GMO-related health issue I’m aware of after over a decade of research and testing," he said in an interview with Yale Environment 360. "And environmentally GMOs have been beneficial, even in their current limited sense. ... In the future we will be looking at nitrogen-efficient, drought-tolerant GMO crops with many other traits, which will minimize land use whilst increasing yield."
These technologies are indeed on the way. Farmers like me want them.  In 2011, we planted 60% more Bt corn acres in Portugal than we had the year before.  Scientists are developing them. And the world needs them, if we’re going to accomplish what every demographic expert says must be our goal and double food production by 2050, in order to feed all of the planet’s people.
Yet if Europeans are to benefit, the EU regulators will have to stop playing politics, ignoring science, and chasing away companies such as BASF. They’ll have to rethink their prejudices, just like Lynas.
They may want to start by letting me grow the crops that go into the feed that I can buy from foreigners.
Maria Gabriela Cruz manages a 500 hectare farm that has been in their family for over 100 years.  Growing maize, wheat, barley and green peas, they use no-till or reduced till methods on the full farm.  She has grown biotech maize since 2006. Ms. Cruz is President of the Portuguese Association of Conservation Agriculture, a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network and the 2010 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient. 

Words Matter -- Biotechnology Does Not Contaminate

Mar 08, 2012

 By John Reifsteck: Champaign, Ill.



Sometimes you just have to pay attention.


I do not grow organic crops on my farm and often do not listen to discussions about organic rules and regulations. That is a mistake, because some pretty obscure language from USDA is important to me and other farmers who plant biotech seeds.


I am referring, of course, to Appendix 3, Part 3, Subsection G of a new agreement involving the trade of organic food between the U.S. and the European Union.


That was next on your reading list, right?


The main purpose of the U.S.-EU pact is positive. It basically says that both parties will accept each other’s standards on organic food--an acceptance that creates incredible export opportunities for farmers who specialize in this niche field. Even if organics are not on your grocery list, possibly because they tend to cost more, it’s hard not to approve of a deal that will help American farmers sell their products overseas.


The agreement also describes the creation of something called the Organics Working Group, which, according to Appendix 3.3.G, will study the "contamination of organic products from genetically modified organisms."


Contamination? Really? This is where a dictionary comes in handy. Webster’s defines "contaminate" thusly: "To make impure, infected, corrupt, radioactive, etc., by contact with or addition of something; pollute; defile; sully; taint."


This contamination theory is largely based on the premise that pollen from a biotech planted field can flow to an organically planted field that does not use biotechnology. That is, of course, true. All pollen, including pollen from a biotech plant, moves in the environment. But does biotech pollen fit the definition of contamination? No, it does not.


We all understand how bees contribute to the pollination of many plants. Anyone who suffers from an allergy to ragweed pollen can attest that pollen flow can have adverse effects on our environment. That is not true with pollen from biotech crops.


There is absolutely no reason to treat pollen from biotech seeds differently than from nonbiotech. Biotech crops are the most intensely studied and regulated crops on the planet. They have been planted on billions of acres over the last 15 years with no credible health concerns. The technology is good for the environment because it allows farmers to produce more yield with less inputs. Even organic growers are not harmed by the proximity of biotech crops. If a farmer follows the rules specified by USDA for organic production, the presence of biotechnology in his harvest does not disqualify his organic certification. Under these circumstances, how can biotechnology be considered a contaminant?


The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to fight pests and weeds. Treating these crops as "contaminants" is part of an ideological struggle to prevent farmers from using 21st-century technology. USDA should speak out, defend the farmers who produce safe food and refuse to let the professional protestors define the terms of debate.


Words matter. If we accept this loaded terminology, we’ll set up an unfair presumption against biotechnology, making it seem as though farmers who grow well established and safe crops are causing environmental harm.


Organic farmers should enjoy the freedom to grow crops as they please. So should other farmers, including those of us--and there are millions around the world--who think using biotechnology is one of the best ways to feed a growing world.


John Reifsteck is a corn and soybean producer in western Champaign County Illinois. He serves as a board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)

Organic Farming Cannot Feed the World

Mar 01, 2012

 By Carol Keiser:  Belleair, Fla.


Woody Allen won an Oscar for the screenplay to his film Midnight in Paris on Sunday night, but he didn’t collect his golden statue in person. He’s semi-famous for not attending the Academy Awards, which is odd because he also once said that 80 percent of success is just showing up.


There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement, but let’s face it: 80 percent usually isn’t good enough. The rest of your success depends on more than showing up. After you show up, you have to perform.


That’s why a new study in a scientific journal has so much to teach about food security. If we’re going to succeed in feeding a global population of billions in the 21st century -- one of the greatest challenges of our time -- we’re going to need every tool and technology available so farmers around the world can choose what will work best on their farm. This must include new farming technologies. Farmers cannot be limited to the methods that were used in the past.


The researchers discovered an important truth: Organic agriculture can’t feed the world.


"Our results show that organic yields of individual crops are on average 80 percent of conventional yields," write Tomek de Ponti, Bert Rijk and Matin K. van Ittersum of Wageningen University in the Netherlands in the latest issue of Agricultural Systems, a peer-reviewed academic publication. They examined 362 studies that compared organic and conventional crop yields, creating what they call a "meta-dataset." That’s a fancy way of saying their work was comprehensive.


Organic foods make up only a small percentage of overall food production, but sales have boomed in the last 15 years. Although they can be pricey, many consumers have expressed a preference for them, and so farmers have met the demand. Opportunities are about to increase, following the announcement in February that the United States and European Union will accept each other’s organic standards.


So organic farming will remain a healthy sub-sector of the agricultural industry.


But it won’t ever be more than this. It can’t ever be more than this if we’re serious about feeding the world.


Most analysts believe we must double our food production by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing population as well as the desires of people in developing countries who simply want to eat better.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an unlimited supply of farmland. We have to get more from the land we already cultivate. That means improving not only conventional farming practices, but utilizing every technology available, including biotechnology, and making the most of its promise so that yields will rise.


Farmers are doing this right now: Almost 17 million of them plant GM crops, and 90 percent of those are smallholder, resource-poor farmers in developing countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). In 2011, biotech crops took up nearly 400 million acres of farmland, up 8 percent from a year earlier.


If we’re to meet the food objectives of 2050, we’ll need to see growth like this for years to come.


Organic crops may continue to find a market among choosy buyers in wealthy countries, but their yields won’t meet the needs of the world: 80 percent just won’t cut it.


In a basketball game, if you score 80 percent as many points as your opponent, you get blown off the court, 100 to 80. That’s not March Madness; it’s March Badness.


In school, 80 percent usually earns a grade of B-minus, which is so-so at best and pretty close to a C-plus, which is heading toward not-great. It means you probably should do more homework.


If you show up for work 80 percent of the time, your boss will fire you. If your boss pays you 80 percent of your wages, you’ll quit your job--because it just isn’t good enough.


Yields of 80 percent fall too short as well. That means skipping one meal out of every five, or one out of every five people in the world not receiving the food they need to survive.


Any volunteers?  I didn’t think so.


Organic food is a choice. Those with the means to choose it have every right to do so. Farmers have every right to supply what these consumers want.


But let’s also recognize that it’s a luxury, and our needs are urgent: more food, better technology and widespread awareness of what must be done.


Showing up isn’t good enough.


Carol Keiser owns and operates cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois.  She is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member (www.truthabouttrade.org).

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