Published on: 12:41PM Dec 31, 2013
By Mary Boote: Des Moines, Iowa
The year 2013 has come and gone. How time flies when you have so much to say! From global trade talks and the economic boost of exports felt around the world to the importance of agricultural technology for the world’s farmers, hear what the global voices of Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT) said about the year that was, as it happened.
In January, TATT board chairman Bill Horan pointed out that exports have fueled growth in a sluggish economy—but also warned that they’re slowing down. "Complacency now becomes a danger," he wrote, urging the White House to pursue new trade agreements. "None of this will happen without political leadership."
The next month, President Obama used his State of the Union address to advocate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and also to call for a new free-trade agreement with the EU. Tim Burrack hailed the remarks: "If [he] achieves just one of [these accords] in his second term … he will leave behind an impressive legacy on trade. If he achieves both, he may go down in history as one of America’s great trading presidents."
By summer, the news was looking up. "I’ve been involved in trade talks for decades, both as a participant and as an observer," wrote Dean Kleckner, TATT’s chairman emeritus. "The Europeans appear more eager than ever to come to the bargaining table."
The news got even better in December, when the countries involved in the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of negotiations finally reached a deal—an incredibly modest deal, but a deal nonetheless. "After years of arguing without result, they finally appear to have struck a deal that will make a difference," wrote Kleckner.
As we approached 2014, it became increasingly clear that Congress would need to pass Trade Promotion Authority, to improve the ability of U.S. trade diplomats to finish their negotiations: "It’s an excellent system that has worked well for a long time, keeping true to the Constitution and also promoting our economy in a variety of partisan environments," wrote Burrack in December.
TATT’s other main area of interest—technology—also brought welcome news. The selection of Pope Francis in March was not a technology story, but it provided John Rigolizzo Jr. with an opportunity to remind readers of an important fact: "The Vatican stands in the vanguard of science and technology," he wrote. "It’s one of the world’s strongest supporters of genetically modified crops." Nine months later, of course, Pope Francis became Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Not everybody shared the Vatican’s views: Around the world, advances in technology came under intense pressure from political activists and scientific illiterates. Hawaii became a battleground, even though biotechnology saved the state’s papaya industry from the deadly ringspot virus. Ken Kamiya, a member of TATT’s Global Farmer Network, told the success story: "The tool of biotechnology saved us," he wrote in July. "Thanks to genetic modification, papaya farmers were able to grow papayas again. Today our small industry has recovered and virtually all of the papayas grown in Hawaii are GM crops."
Other enemies of technology tried to require warning labels on food with GM ingredients, without any scientific justification. "It would fool people into worrying that perfectly safe food poses a health hazard," wrote Carol Keiser in August, in response to a bill in Congress. "I’m not just a food producer," she continued. "I’m also a mother and a grandmother. When I stop at the store and decide what to put on the dinner table for my family, I depend on accurate and reliable labels. I don’t want labels that push me away from safe and healthy food."
The biggest fight of the year took place in Washington State, where voters weighed a ballot proposal to force labels on foods with GM ingredients. "If you believe in thinking globally and acting locally, then think about all the people around the globe who depend on modern methods of food production—and then act locally by rejecting a ballot initiative that will make GM foods harder to produce and costlier to consumers," wrote Ted Sheely.
The next week, Rosalie Ellasus of the Global Farmers Network explained the international ramifications: "We worry that their decision will threaten our livelihoods here" in the Philippines, she wrote.
The labeling proposal went down to defeat, and TATT’s newest board member, Mark Wagoner, interpreted the result: "Voters in my home state of Washington delivered a resounding message on Election Day: We trust America’s farmers."
Politics isn’t just about defeating bad ideas. It’s about advancing good ones. In November, Hope Pjesky made the case for the Charitable Agricultural Research Act, urging Congress to take on "what may be the greatest scientific challenge of the 21st century: Growing enough food to keep pace with a world population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050."
Legislation can’t grow food, of course. That takes farmers—and specifically farmers who care about the soil. "I was taught as a young man that we don’t inherit the land from out ancestors—we borrow it from our children," wrote Terry Wanzek in September. "We couldn’t do it without technology. To be good stewards of the soil, we must take advantage of what science and innovation can offer, always on the lookout for how modern tools can help us grow more food and protect the earth."
V. Ravichandran, Indian smallholder farmer who received the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award in October, echoed these sentiments earlier in the year: "Better soil leads to better living—and it all starts with a balanced diet, both for people as well as for the earth."
As we begin 2014, the centennial year of Dr. Norman Borlaug, it is good to be reminded of his words spoken in 1970 as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: "If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time, cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace." From the global farmers who are Truth About Trade & Technology to each of you: A wish for the New Year that brings bread for all and peace.
Mary Boote serves as Chief Executive Officer for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).