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April 2014 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.

We All Pay a Price When Politics Gets in the Way of Trade

Apr 24, 2014

 By Mark Wagoner:  Touchet, Washington

[Note - this commentary appeared in The Washington Times posted Apr 23]
 
President Obama’s trip to Japan is already a missed opportunity—and Congress deserves a share of the blame.
 
The White House had hoped to use the president’s visit to Tokyo this week to announce a breakthrough in trade talks, as President Obama embarks on a four-nation tour of Asia. Now it appears that won’t happen: "A stalemate continues," said Japanese economics minister Akira Amari, according to Reuters.
 
Everybody knew progress would be tough: The United States and Japan are already close trading partners, and bringing us closer together will involve hard choices on agriculture (for Japan) and cars and trucks (for the United States). So the sluggish pace of these negotiations is no surprise.
 
Yet Americans should demand success.
 
The benefits of a Trans-Pacific Partnership are enormous. If the United States and Japan complete this trade pact with ten other Pacific Rim nations, global exports could grow by more than $300 billion per year by 2025, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. And the United States would enjoy a big chunk of this commerce: $123 billion.
 
That would translate into a lot of jobs in the factories and on the farms of the United States.
 
None of it will happen, however, if the president lacks Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a legislative tool that allows the administration to bargain with other countries and then submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Foreign governments want to work out deals with the U.S. Trade Representative—not with the U.S. Trade Representative plus 535 members of Congress, all of them with their own agendas and the power to offer amendments.
 
Since the advent of TPA in the 1970s, every president has enjoyed this tool for at least a portion of his time in office, with the exception of President Obama. TPA last expired in 2007 and Congress has refused to renew it.
 
Partisanship plays a big role. In the past, Democrat-controlled Congresses have refused to approve TPA for Republican presidents and Republican-controlled Congresses have refused to approve TPA for Democratic presidents. On top of that, many Democrats are outright protectionists: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, publicly announced he opposes TPA for President Obama.
 
Whatever the motives of individual lawmakers, the collective failure of Congress to approve TPA is now hurting America’s ability to talk trade with Japan. Earlier this month, Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who was President Bush’s trade ambassador, told the Wall Street Journal that "Japan is reluctant to make big concessions because of concerns that Congress could end up asking for more later."
 
In other words, Japan doesn’t want to make a deal that Congress might scuttle through legislative trickery.
 
This is precisely the problem TPA is designed to resolve.
 
The beauty of TPA is that it frees the executive branch to negotiate with foreign governments while also preserving the authority of Congress to approve or disapprove of the result. It just prevents Congress from messing up a sensible deal with amendments meant to serve special interests.
 
Here in the state of Washington, we need TPA because we need TPP: Foreign trade is a key to our profitability, especially for those of us who farm. We export huge amounts of apples, cherries, pears, wheat, and wine to Asia.
 
Without these exports, many of us wouldn’t be able to farm at all.
 
I grow alfalfa seed, and between 30 and 40 percent of it goes abroad. What’s more, the alfalfa seed I sell to American producers grows a crop with a big export market. Millions of metric tons of alfalfa hay ship out of Portland, Seattle, and other ports for overseas customers. Our most dependable buyer is Japan.
 
So when I look at the possibility of the United States and Japan reaching an agreement on TPP, I see nothing but economic opportunity—and I’m disappointed to watch politics get in the way of jobs for Americans.
 
When things go wrong in the world, members of Congress love to blame the White House. In this case, things aren’t going right—and Congress has the ability to help them go better. We’re all paying a price for its refusal.
 
Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed.   Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

In a World of Changing Climate, Agriculture Will Continue to Adapt with New Technologies

Apr 17, 2014

 By Dan Kelley:  Normal, Illinois

 
A recently released report on climate change from the United Nations contains the usual warnings about the future, from melting polar caps to chronic heat waves. It also emphasizes the threat of less food on a planet with more people.
 
"This is a wake-up call for the agriculture sector," says Craig Hanson of the World Resources Institute, in a New York Times account of the forecast from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
 
At least one of the IPCC’s claims is remarkably specific: Climate change already has depressed corn yields by 1 percent.
 
This may or may not be true. I haven’t crunched the numbers and won’t dispute them. My personal experience, however, suggests that the best way forward lies through advances in technology and letting farmers have access to them.
 
I’ve farmed my whole life, and I’ve done it professionally since 1970. I’m blessed to work in central Illinois, which contains some of the world’s most fertile soil. In a couple of weeks, I’ll begin a new season of planting corn and soybeans across a little more than 3,000 acres.
 
When I started to farm more than four decades ago, we hoped that each acre of corn would yield close to 150 bushels but we often topped out at 135. The most productive fields—the record-setting ones on other farms—might inch past 200 bushels per acre.
 
Today, anything less than 200 bushels per acre is a disappointment for me. Under the right conditions, our top fields generate 230 bushels per acre. I haven’t touched 300 bushels per acre, but several farmers I know have and I hope to get there eventually.
 
So we’ve come a long way. If my farming in 2014 produces a result that I would have regarded as excellent in 1970, I’ll consider it a poor harvest.
 
What explains the improvement? The main factor is seed technology. Scientists know a lot more about plant genetics today and they’ve used their knowledge to turn out excellent seeds that grow into healthy plants. Since the 1990s, we’ve also taken advantage of biotechnology and genetic modification. Every year, we upgrade our ability to fight weeds, pests, and drought.
 
Other technologies also have mattered. Our equipment helps us cover more fields in less time than ever before. We’re also planting individual seeds with incredible precision, allowing us to make the most of the soil and its nutrients.
 
Perhaps the IPCC is correct and small variations in the weather have put negative pressure on our ability to grow crops. My own farming, however, suggests that technology has pushed hard in the other direction, more than compensating for the problem.
 
The lesson is obvious: Even in a world of changing climates, we must continue to develop new agriculture technologies that will allow us to grow more food on less land as we adapt to changing conditions. As a corollary, we must make sure that farmers are able to access these technologies—and that our regulations rely on sound science rather than the political fear mongering that so often plagues innovation.
 
Shortly after the IPCC report came out, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times invoked the name of Thomas Malthus, the 18th-centry economist who warned about population growth and resource depletion. Malthus is one of those names that many of us dimly recall from history class, and we associate the word "Malthusian" with famine and death.
 
Does climate change really point to an era of Malthusian misery?
 
A new biography shows that we’ve misunderstood the man. In "Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet," published last week by Oxford University Press, author Robert J. Mayhew points out that Malthus was optimistic about the human future. He worried about hunger. Yet he was also a clergyman who thought that our God-given powers of reason would help us solve problems and find balance with the world’s resources.
 
As we strive for food security in the 21st century, we must confront our challenges rather than despair over them. I’m hopeful that new technologies will help farmers continue to adapt to changing conditions. We must remember that success is a choice—and that even Thomas Malthus would be on our side, cheering us on.
 
Daniel Kelley grows corn and soybeans on a family farm near Normal, IL. He volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

EU-US Regulatory Harmonization is a Problem Worth Fixing

Apr 10, 2014

 By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa

 
It felt like an out-of-body experience.
 
Last week, I found myself sitting in an auditorium in Brussels—and listening to Europeans applaud genetically modified crops.
 
Yet it was no fantasy. I was at the 7thForum for the Future of Agriculture —a one-day event by and for European farmers. Over a thousand were in attendance. There were a few African farmers, too, but if there were any Americans beside myself in the room, I didn’t meet them.
 
Speakers who wanted to win a favorable reaction from the audience just had to put in a good word for GM foods. Biotechnology was a ready applause line.
 
This doesn’t mean the debate over GM foods in Europe is done. Acceptance still faces a significant amount of political and cultural resistance. But the global scientific community now agrees that biotechnology is an essential part of the solution to food and nutritional insecurity in the 21st century.
 
We’re moving in the right direction, just at a slower pace than most of us would like. Fortunately, the next step forward is clearly marked.
 
GM foods are a subset of a larger issue that separates the United States and Europe: regulatory harmonization. This is the push to create common standards across international markets, so that product approvals on one side of the Atlantic receive the benefit of the doubt on the other side.
 
In other words, our regulations should work in tandem rather than in competition.
 
Consider the case of a European blueberry producer who spoke at the Forum for Agriculture. He noted the growing American appetite for blueberries. Yet U.S. regulations get in the way of his sales. They delay his deliveries so much that his blueberries spoil before they reach American consumers.
 
Would you hesitate to eat a bowl of blueberries in a Paris café? Of course not: The berries are perfectly safe, and we know it. Blueberries grown in Europe already meet adequate standards set by European authorities. Yet as they try to move to our markets, the additional rules at our ports and borders cause slowdowns and create losers: producers who can’t sell what they grow and consumers who can’t buy from alternative sources.
 
This is a problem worth fixing.
 
The benefits of regulatory harmonization would flow both ways. Europe currently exports more food to the United States than vice versa: more than $16 billion per year compared to nearly $10 billion per year. There are many reasons for this discrepancy, but regulatory barriers are a major one. Sensible rules will lead to more sales for American farmers and ranchers.
 
Bureaucrats on both sides of the Atlantic will have to forfeit a bit of regulatory turf. Yet the potential payoff is huge. If we can find a way to make our policies work together, rather than against each other, we’ll not only make life easier for producers and consumers in our own countries, but we’ll also have a chance to set sensible standards for the entire world.
 
By reconciling their regulatory differences, the United States and Europe will be in a strong position to bring down regulatory trade barriers in other nations. The movement of goods and services across borders would improve everywhere.
 
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) talks between the United States and Europe finished their fourth round last month and a fifth round will begin shortly. Regulatory harmonization will be on the table soon. If the negotiations stay on schedule, they could strike a deal by the end of the year, forging a pact that improves ties between economies whose daily trade with each other is already worth $3 billion.
 
Progress on regulatory harmonization won’t cure Europe of its anti-biotech madness, but it would begin to treat the hidden protectionism that is one of its underlying causes.
 
And it would provide aid and comfort to our allies at the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, who would like to stop clapping for GM crops in their conference halls and to start growing them on their farms.
 
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).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Planting the Four Billionth Acre of Biotech Crops in the World

Apr 03, 2014

 By Jose Luis Romeo: Monte Odina, Spain

 
As I begin to plant my own crops this week, I know that somewhere in the northern hemisphere this month, a farmer will put a seed in the ground—and the world will have its 4-billionth acre of genetically modified crops.
 
Perhaps it will happen in my country of Spain, which is Europe’s leader in GM farming. We can only guess at the location of this milestone achievement, let alone the farmer who will reach it. Yet we know for certain that the great moment will come about halfway through this month.
 
Truth about Trade & Technology, a non-profit group based in the United States, has tracked the world’s biotech-crop acreage for years. It posts its findings in the upper right-hand corner of its website (www.truthabouttrade.org) with a special counter that constantly updates, using official reports and independent research.
 
How big is 4 billion acres? It’s an area so vast that Spain could fit into it almost 32 times. It’s more than one and a half times as large as all of Europe. It’s nearly as big as South America.
 
That’s a lot of acreage.
 
There’s a lesson in all of this: GM crops are good for farmers, good for consumers, and good for the environment.
 
Farmers like me choose to plant GM crops because they work. We have found them safer and easier to use. They also produce more food than so-called conventional crops.
 
With 4 billion acres of cumulative biotech acres now planted globally, of course, we may want to reconsider the definition of "conventional."
 
Although GM crops may be common, they are anything but ordinary. They are extraordinary plants that allow the worlds farmers to grow more food on less land.
 
That’s why I started to grow GM corn. Where I live—in the Ebro Valley of northern Spain, right beside the Pyrenees—we have a serious problem with the European corn borer. This pest drills into corn stalks, making them weak and barely able to stand. When the wind blows, it knocks down the corn. And the wind can blow so hard here that we have a special name for it: "the cierzo."
 
When corn lies on the ground, of course, it is impossible to harvest.
 
GM corn, however, carries a natural resistance to the corn borer and we don’t have to spray our fields with insecticide. The bugs leave it alone. So when the cierzo strikes, our corn stands tall.  Best of all, we are obtaining better yields.
 
Biotechnology lets me raise two crops per year. Right now, I’m planting barley and peas. I’ll harvest them in June and then replant my fields with corn, without tillage. Corn that starts in June doesn’t have as much time to grow, so its stalks are thinner and more vulnerable to corn borers and high winds.
 
When I plant crops that are genetically modified, however, they grow strong and we can harvest two crops rather than just one. We’re doing more with less. Food is more affordable. So biotechnology contributes to the spread of sustainable agriculture—environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture.
 
My only regret about biotechnology is that we don’t have more of it. Although we grow corn that can defeat the corn borer, the European Union won’t let us have access to varieties of biotechnology that would help our crops to beat other threats, including weeds, rootworm, and drought.
 
In much of the western hemisphere—the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina—farmers take these characteristics for granted. They grow GM crops every day, and they’re a big part of the reason why biotechnology has just hit the 4-billion mark.
 
Unfortunately, Europe continues to resist biotechnology the way my corn resists corn borers.
 
In time, I think the EU will change its ways. We currently import a good deal of our food, and much of it comes from GM crops. I do not believe Europe can continue to import food forever, if we are going to continue to be rich countries. We must increase our food production and Europe’s farmers must have access to GM technology to achieve this goal.
 
I’m hopeful that by the time a farmer plants the 5-billionth acre of GM crops, probably within the next three years, Europeans will have opened their minds to the potential of these amazing plants and will allow us to catch up with the rest of the world.
 
Jose Luis Romeo, a fourth generation family farmer, grows peas, barley, corn and wine grapes in northern Spain, near the Pyrenees.  Jose is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
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