WASHINGTON, June 25, 2014 -- The American Soybean Association (ASA) is calling on U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration to take a tougher stance with trading partners including China and the European Union on their resistance to U.S. biotech exports.

The message was carried to the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday at a hearing that examined the use of trade rules to “level the playing field” for U.S. companies and exporters by Richard Wilkins, the ASA’s treasurer and a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Delaware.

“The U.S. must insist that biotechnology be a top priority” in trade negotiations, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with the EU, Wilkins said in a statement submitted to the committee. “Only when there are real ‘teeth’ in trade agreements will the U.S be able to use enforcement tools to protect our interests.”

Wilkins took special aim at China, which he noted is the biggest customer for U.S. soybeans, importing over a fourth of the country’s annual production. In the past, China had routinely announced regulatory decisions on new biotech traits three times a year, processing new applications in a 24-30 month timeframe. Since 2011, however, regulatory decisions have been issued only once a year, and it’s been a full year since the last announcement on new corn or soybean traits, Wilkins said.

“It is critically important for the administration to engage the government of China at the highest level to reach a mutually beneficial understanding on trade in biotech commodities,” he said. The delays in regulatory approval not only hurt farmers and exporters but the companies that develop the traits, Wilkins said

He also said the U.S. should work with other governments to establish a global Low Level Presence (LLP) policy under which small levels of a biotech trait determined safe by an exporting country but not approved by the importer would be allowed in a shipment without resulting in the entire shipment’s rejection. Some countries today have a “zero tolerance” for such traits, and often turn away an entire cargo, causing major losses to a shipper.

Wilkins criticized recent statements by EU negotiators that the trading bloc will not consider changing any of its biotech laws or regulations as a result of a T-TIP agreement. “That is not an acceptable position,” Wilkins said, calling for specific changes “either within or in advance of a T-TIP agreement.” They include the following:

--The EU must take the steps necessary to comply with its own regulations and timeframes for making science-based decisions on biotech products for import.

--Commercially meaningful tolerances must be established for the low-level presence of biotechnology-derived commodities that have been approved by U.S. regulators but for which reviews have not yet been completed by EU regulatory bodies.

--A Polish law that would ban the use of biotech ingredients in animal feed must be removed. Although implementation of the law has been delayed until 2017, the measure has no basis in science and contravenes the EU’s World Trade Organization commitments, Wilkins said.

--The EU’s mandatory traceability and labeling requirements must be modified or replaced.

Wilkins noted that these regulatory barriers can significantly impact exports from the U.S. where in 2013 at least 90 percent of soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and sugar beets were genetically modified.


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