U.S. agricultural exports must contend with a wide range of trade barriers not based in science that impede access to overseas markets, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in its latest National Trade Estimate Report.

The report contains a blistering assessment of the trade practices of the People’s Republic of China, which “remains a difficult and unpredictable market for U.S. agricultural exporters, largely because of inconsistent enforcement of regulations and selective intervention in the market by China’s regulatory authorities.”

“China’s unwillingness to routinely follow science-based international standards and guidelines and to apply regulatory enforcement in a transparent and rules-based manner further complicates and impedes agricultural trade,” the report said.

Its release comes the same week the U.S. and China traded accusations of unfair practices when the PRC filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization alleging that the Biden administration is subsidizing electric vehicles through the Inflation Reduction Act.

The report said China has failed to implement “some of its more significant agriculture commitments,” such as its promise in 2020 as part of the Trump Administration’s “Phase One” agreement to revamp its process for reviewing biotech traits.

“[T]here remains a significant lack of transparency regarding the procedures for convening meetings of the [National Biosafety Committee], including regarding dates and agenda items for these meetings and the process for notifying applicants of outcomes and for soliciting additional information to support product applications,” the report said.

Since 2021, the NBC "has issued biosafety certificates to foreign developers for several new GE products for import as feed or for processing, including alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybean, and sugarcane products," including some that had been under review for more than 10 years, the report said.

"During the same time period, China has issued biosafety certificates to Chinese developers for well over 100 new corn, cotton, and soybean products for domestic cultivation," it continued. "These approvals continue the recent trend of expanding domestic approvals for GE crops beyond cotton."

China also has yet to conduct a risk assessment on the use of ractopamine in cattle and swine, the report said, and “fell far short of implementing its commitments to purchase certain amounts of specific U.S. goods and services in 2020 and 2021.”

China isn’t the only offender, the report said, citing “the European Union’s non-science-based policies affecting innovative crop protection technologies” and both India's and Turkey’s treatment of biotech products.

"India’s biotechnology approval processes are slow, opaque, and subject to political influences and do not appear to take into account science-based approval processes for GE products in exporting countries," the report said.

In addition, India's Minimum Support Price program uses “one of the most production- and trade-distorting types of support, market-price support,” the report said.

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The report also called out a number of countries for limiting imports of ethanol, noting the U.S. "continues to engage with Brazil" to lower its ethanol tariff rate of 18%.

“USTR is determined to use all available tools to ensure that U.S. agricultural producers are provided fair access to compete on a level playing field globally, and to ensure safe, wholesome food and agricultural products to consumers worldwide,” the office said in the news release.

Corruption remains a massive problem globally, although USTR said the United States “has made real progress over the past quarter century building international coalitions to fight bribery and corruption.”

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a news release that this year’s report “has received unprecedented attention … because we are taking steps to return it to its stated statutory purpose.” 

The report, Tai said, had “expanded” in the past few years “to include measures without regard to whether they may be valid exercises of sovereign policy authority. Examples include efforts by South Africa to render its economy more equitable in the post-Apartheid era; import licensing requirements for narcotics and explosives; and restrictions on imports of endangered species.” 

“We respect that each government—including our own—has the sovereign right to govern in the public interest and to regulate for legitimate public policy reasons,” Tai said. “By carefully editing and returning the NTE Report to the statute’s intent, USTR is making it a more useful document that enumerates significant trade barriers that could be addressed to expand market opportunities and help our economy grow.”

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