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November 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.

Lugar: A Natural Option for US Trade Representative

Nov 29, 2012

 By Dean Kleckner:  Des Moines, Iowa


The Obama administration’s second-term shakeup will include a new top trade diplomat as the current U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, is eyeing the exit door.


There’s no official announcement yet, but Kirk’s departure is one of the worst-kept secrets in the capital. "He intends to leave Washington and head back to Dallas," where he once was mayor, reports the Washington Post.


As President Obama reboots a cabinet that will include a new Secretary of State and director of the CIA, he’ll want to make sure he settles on a trade ambassador who not only has his full confidence but also a high level of credibility with foreign leaders.


An excellent choice is available: Richard Lugar, the Republican senator from Indiana.


Under normal circumstances, Lugar wouldn’t even consider the job. Earlier this year, however, he lost his party’s primary election. Lugar had hoped to serve one more term in the Senate and then retire after a long career.


By tapping Lugar, President Obama would send a powerful signal to a divided country that’s sick of partisan gridlock. He pursued the same strategy in his first term with the appointment of former Republican congressman Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation. LaHood has indicated that he doesn’t plan to stick around for another four years.  As with Kirk, there’s been no formal notice, but all signs point to a departure.


Lugar is a natural option. For one thing, the President and Lugar have a strong relationship, going back to their days in the Senate. They collaborated as members of the Foreign Relations Committee and traveled together to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.


In 2007, when Obama announced that he was running for president, he invoked Lugar’s name. "Politics don’t have to divide us," he said. "I’ve worked with Republican senator Dick Lugar." During one of his presidential debates with John McCain in 2008, Obama said that for foreign-policy advice, he sought Lugar’s counsel. President Obama even cut campaign commercials that showed images of the Hoosier. Lugar had not endorsed Obama, but neither did he ask for Obama to take down the ads.


In addition to showing bipartisanship and enjoying Obama’s trust, Lugar possess several other important qualities. Popular among his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, he would coast through Senate confirmation. He also possesses an outstanding record of free-trade votes. He has been a consistent supporter of free-trade agreements and presidential Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).


Farmers would cheer the choice as Lugar has chaired the Senate’s agriculture committee and he knows how much farmers depend on exports.


The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, ranks Lugar as one of the Senate’s most reliable friends of free trade. Over the last two decades, Lugar has cast 55 votes on issues involving trade barriers. According to Cato, he has voted to remove restraints to trade on 53 occasions--more than 96 percent of the time.


Senators don’t have bosses, except perhaps for voters, and Lugar would have to agree to take direction from the White House. The late Earl Butz, who was Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon and Ford administrations, once told me how it works: "The president and I have a deal," he said. "When we don’t agree, we do things his way."


So Lugar would have to agree to do things Obama’s way. But perhaps he could also become the strong voice for trade that the Obama administration desperately needs, as it seeks to make good on a promise to double exports by 2015 and complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a potentially blockbuster trade pact whose success will require a skilled negotiator who knows his way around foreign capitals as well as the halls of Congress.


Serving as U.S. trade representative would be a worthy capstone to a distinguished career.  Obama should seize this unique opportunity and invite Lugar to join his team, for the good of the country.


Dean Kleckner serves as Chairman Emeritus of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

We Must Remove the Landmines That Limit Access to Biotechnology in Africa

Nov 21, 2012

 By Motlatsi Musi: Pimville, South Africa


Back in the dark days of apartheid, many South African farmers like myself were forced to drive our tractors through fields full of landmines as we worked hard to grow maize and other vegetables.


That’s now a part of history, thank goodness. Yet farmers in today’s Africa continue to face landmines of the metaphorical variety: As we try to obtain access to the latest agricultural technology, we see hazardous obstacles everywhere. They must be removed.


If our continent is ever going to feed itself, we’re going to have to beat the odds--and adopt the same tools that are taken for granted in so much of the developed world. That means we must have access to seeds improved with biotechnology.


I’ve seen the benefits of GM crops firsthand. Just south of Johannesburg, I own several acres of land and rent more. For the last eight years, I’ve grown genetically modified corn and soybeans. They are outstanding crops. My yields have improved by more than one-third, meaning that the economics of farming never have been better. Agriculture doesn’t have to be a subsistence occupation. It can be a sustainable profession.


Economics are only a part of it. GM crops are more sustainable for the environment and human health as well. The biotech variety I planted protects maize from stalk boring insects, so I don’t have to apply nearly as much chemical spray as in the past. That’s a huge benefit for field laborers, especially children.


The enemies of biotechnology sometimes claim that GM food is harmful to eat. This is sheer nonsense. Ever since I’ve grown it, I’ve eaten it. There are no bad side effects. This is perfectly good food.


Africans everywhere must come to this realization. We don’t grow nearly enough food. Our production is simply too low. And so we face a stark choice: Do we accept the bleak prospect of permanent dependence, in which we rely upon the wealthy nations of the world to feed us, out of pity? Or do we want to stand on our own and take care of ourselves?


The choice is between aid and trade, and this is no choice at all. We must embrace agricultural growth. We shouldn’t struggle to feed our fellow Africans, but should grow so much that we export our crops around the world.


GM technology is not a panacea. It won’t solve all of our problems. African farmers face a long series of challenges, from an inadequate infrastructure to political corruption. Yet access to the latest crop technologies will give us a fighting chance, especially as the climate changes and we try to adapt to new and possibly harder conditions. Drought-resistant plants represent an especially hopeful opportunity.


Too much of Africa missed out on the Green Revolution. We cannot afford to let Africa ignore the Gene Revolution.


Unfortunately, many people, especially in Europe, don’t want us to benefit from these developments. It reminds me of the worst aspects of South African apartheid.


In 1976, I quit high school to become an anti-apartheid activist, thinking that liberation was more important than education. They’re both essential, of course, and I’m proud to say that over time we saw Nelson Mandela go free and now many of us actually own the land we work. I’m no longer a second-class citizen, but a proud South African with my own passport.


But those were tough times. As a protestor, I was detained by authorities. My brother was beaten. He still has a dent in his skull from that experience. Just thinking about those times brings back memories of pain.


Now we face a new kind of imperialism--an international eco-imperialism that seems to think African farmers should remain poor and desperate, while the rest of the world flourishes. This new breed of activist seeks to keep GM crops away from African farmers and hamper the sale of our GM food to customers in other countries. Almost nothing could be more harmful.


I look forward to a different kind of future, when Africans refuse to let others push us around. We should demand nothing but the best. For those of us who produce the food, that means full access to biotechnology.


Mr. Motlatsi Musi grows maize, beans, potatoes, breeding pigs and cows on 21 hectares he acquired in 2004 through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development Program (LRAD) in South Africa.  Mr. Musi is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network  (www.truthabouttrade.org)

Truth Beats False Food Politics

Nov 15, 2012

 By Ted Sheely: Lemoore, California


California voters sent a loud-and-clear message to special interests and anti-biotech agitators last week: Keep your hands off our food.

The rejection of Proposition 37, a deeply flawed ballot initiative, shows that an informed electorate can make wise choices about food policy. In the face of a propaganda campaign that relied on junk science and scare tactics, 53 percent of voters said no to Prop 37.

The advocates of this radical proposal had a simple but misleading message: Just label it. They sought to require special labels on certain food products that might carry ingredients derived from biotechnology. Yet their unnecessary rules would have raised everyone’s grocery-store bills and raised suspicion without delivering a single consumer benefit.

Prop 37 also would have been a jackpot for trial lawyers, who were its actual authors. Their goal was to rig a system of complex and burdensome regulations, spawning an untold number of petty and destructive lawsuits whose main purpose was to enrich the most aggressive litigators.

Farmers like me condemned Prop 37. So did doctors. The American Medical Association released a statement on the safety of genetically modified food and the pointlessness of politically motivated labeling. Scientists, grocers, and food producers also joined an impressive coalition of truth tellers. 

Early signs suggested that the battle would be hard fought. The first polls hinted that voters might approve Prop 37. The organic food industry and its allies pumped nearly $9 million into an effort to coax voters to favor labeling. They understood the stakes: One of Prop 37’s most prominent backers, Mark Bittman of the New York Times, described the initiative as "the most important vote on food policy this decade." 

Media celebrities jumped into the fray as well. On his daytime television show, Dr. Mehmet Oz plumped for Prop 37. "For the first time ever in this country, genetically modified foods are on the ballot," he said on October 17.

Like so many of Oz’s preposterous allegations about biotech crops, this statement was just plain wrong: In 2002, voters in Oregon overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposal to mandate labeling. Several California counties have voted on biotech crops too.

Yet this was the hallmark of the Yes-on-37 campaign: Bad information, masquerading as fact.

As November approached, an educational campaign on Prop 37 and its defects began to reach the public.

Almost every daily newspaper in California advised voters to spurn Prop 37. They recognized Prop 37 as reckless and harmful. Their unanimity was a rare and remarkable thing, and voters understood the significance of this sweeping rebuff.

The polls started to change, reflecting popular sentiment as it turned against a fatally flawed initiative.

On Election Day, the people finally spoke. And when they did, they spoke decisively.

In beating back Prop 37; they said that America shouldn’t turn away from proven technologies. Nor should consumers bear the cost of expensive regulations that don’t offer any upside.

The most sensible anti-biotech activists may conclude that it’s time to abandon their quixotic quest. GM crops are an essential tool of 21st-century food production; helping farmers from Bakersfield to Burkina Faso grow even more safe and healthy food as they meet the huge challenge of feeding our families and the planet.  

Unfortunately, the political battle over food probably will go on. Before the defeat of Prop 37, activists boasted about running similar initiatives in Oregon and Washington. Last week’s rout should discourage them, but perhaps it will drive them to try again, work harder, and spend more. They may also double down on their ruthless demonization of modern food production.  

Our victory last week is a case study in success, but almost 4.3 million Californians voted against us. We must continue to tell our compelling story. In the months ahead, we can do it with the knowledge and confidence that educated voters will be on our side.

Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

Growing Trade And Our Economy Will Require Leaders Working Together

Nov 08, 2012

 By John Rigolizzo:  Berlin, New Jersey


"America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made," said President Obama early in the morning on Wednesday, during his victory speech in Chicago.


Let’s hope he’s right, especially in the area of free trade. Success will require a renewed commitment to helping Americans sell their goods and services abroad.


It will also take some creative thinking.


Maybe there’s even a special job in it for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. More on that in a moment.


For voters, the top issue in 2012 has been unemployment and the economy. If the United States ever recovers from its current doldrums, exports will have to lead the way--and the Obama administration must open new opportunities for Americans to sell their goods and services around the globe.


Obama’s first term included several notable accomplishments. In the darkest days of the recession, the president promised that exports would double by 2015. Right now, the United States is on track to meet this goal.


That’s the good news. The bad news is that we’re using the wrong yardstick. If exports double by 2015, they’ll double in dollar value only. This is not the best measure of economic health because so much of it depends on currency, inflation, and commodity markets. Export volume matters more--and going by this indicator, we’re nowhere near doubling our exports.


We’re also seeing a slowdown in global trade. The World Trade Organization recently reported that trade in goods probably will grow by only 2.5 percent this year, down from 5 percent last year and 14 percent in 2010. This discouraging trend could erode Obama’s export aspirations.


A poor business cycle explains part of the problem, but policy choices play a large role as well. "Increased protectionism may also be starting to drag on trade," observed The Economist recently.


In the wake of the global financial crisis, most countries avoided the temptation to turn inward. They seemed to have learned the lesson from the 1930s, when deliberate economic isolationism took a bad situation and made it much worse.


Yet now it seems that many governments are flirting with these misguided policies--and the United States is guilty of it too, judging from ongoing trade disputes over everything from steel to tomatoes.


There are a few bright spots, however. Amid all the attention focused on the presidential election, most Americans didn’t notice what happened on October 31, besides Halloween.


On that day, the Panama Free Trade Agreement went into full force, wiping out hundreds of tariffs that made it harder for Americans to do business with Panamanians. Obama formally signed it a year ago, along with a pair of larger and more significant deals involving Colombia and South Korea. The approval of these three pacts--negotiated by the Bush administration but not fully completed until Obama gave them a final push--probably represent Obama’s main legacy of free trade.


At least so far. In his second term, Obama hopes to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership, which holds the potential to boost trade around the region. The president shouldn’t stop there. He should ask Congress for Trade Promotion Authority and use this vital tool to start new talks with other partners.


Perhaps Romney can help.


During the campaign, he praised the huge potential of increased trade with Latin America.


Would it be crazy to think that Romney could become a special trade diplomat?


"In the weeks ahead," said Obama in the wee hours after his re-election, "I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."


If the 2012 election results tell us anything, it’s that Americans don’t trust single-party rule in Washington and expect their elected leaders to work together for the good of the country. Nothing could send a more powerful signal along these lines than Obama and Romney agreeing to collaborate on trade for the economic good of the United States.


Now that would be progress everyone can believe in.


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 volunteer board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrrade.org)

Trade: The Keystone Connecting Domestic and Foreign Policy

Nov 01, 2012

 By Bill Horan:  Rockwell City, Iowa


In all three of their debates, President Obama and Mitt Romney both mentioned international trade and how it benefits the United States.


"We signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world," said Obama on October 3, referring to one of his administration’s economic success stories.


"I want to add more free trade agreements so we have more trade," said Romney on October 16, suggesting that he’ll pursue trade diplomacy even more aggressively.


Each time they faced off, the Democratic and Republican contenders were eager to talk trade. It didn’t matter how the Commission on Presidential Debates tried to define the events it sponsored. The first debate focused on domestic issues, the last one concentrated on foreign policy, and the middle forum included both. Trade came up every time.


Yet neither candidate spoke directly about what may be the most essential point about the flow of goods and services across borders: U.S. trade policies prop up commerce all over the world. Global prosperity depends on an America committed to free-trade leadership.


This simple fact became obvious during the festivities surrounding the World Food Prize in Des Moines last month. My organization, Truth about Trade & Technology, held the seventh annual Global Farmer Roundtable, an occasion for farmers from different countries to gather and discuss their common challenges and opportunities. This year, we hosted 15 farmers from 13 nations, including Zimbabwe, New Zealand, and Uruguay.


I wish Obama and Romney could have taken a break from the campaign trail and listened to our guests as they described how farmers and their families depended on the United States for leadership, vision and inspiration.


Because of the United States leadership, the world has come together to lower trade barriers, making it possible for farmers to feed the planet by selling what they grow to consumers they’ll never meet.


Because of the United States leadership, biotechnology holds out the hope for greater agricultural productivity, making it possible to keep up with rising populations.


Because of the United States leadership, global shipping lanes are open and safe, making it possible for merchants to move their products without fear of coordinated military strikes or random acts of piracy.


Americans make all of this possible, but we benefit from it too. The presence of trade encourages peace and prosperity everywhere.


Think of it this way: Like the keystone that supports an arch, our trade policy connects domestic and foreign policy. If the keystone crumbles or vanishes, then the arch collapses, leaving only ruin.


In the third presidential debate, Romney came close to making this point. He cited Admiral Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that America’s top national security threat isn’t China, Iran, or Russia. It isn’t even Islamic terrorists. Instead, it’s our national debt.


If the United States loses economic strength, then the world will become significantly less peaceful and prosperous. Instead, it will descend into war and destitution.


Obama added his own observation: "We’ve got to make sure that our economy is strong at home so that we can project military power overseas."


The good news is that neither Obama nor Romney is a protectionist. From time to time, they have spoken harshly about China--sometimes even a little too harshly--but they have refused to go over to the dark side of economic isolationism.


This is nothing to take for granted. In the heat of election contests, office seekers frequently try to pander to struggling voters by blaming foreign trade for America’s ills. In 2008, when he was a senator running for the White House, candidate Obama threatened to pull out of NAFTA.


Whether he truly meant what he said at the time or merely wanted to stoke populist passions is now a question for historians: As president, he abandoned this rhetoric and became an advocate of global commerce. Romney, for his part, has pledged to expand trade, especially with Latin America.


On Election Day, only one man can prevail. Let’s hope that no matter who comes out on top, free trade triumphs as well. Then everybody wins.


Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa.  Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).

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