WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – As legislation to ease the approval of trade agreements works its way through Capitol Hill, agricultural leaders are wondering how the actions of a key trading partner will impact trade talks across the Atlantic Ocean.

Last month, the European Union issued somewhat conflicting rulings mere days apart regarding its stance on biotech crops. On Wednesday, April 22, crop producers in the U.S. were disappointed when the EU announced a new plan to allow its member states to individually decide to opt out of importing genetically engineered (GE) food and feed. Then on Friday, April 24, the EU announced the approval of 10 new GE seed traits and the renewal of seven others.

In the span of two days, the EU both supported biotech crops and created an avenue for each of its 28 member states to disallow the technology within their borders. So what does this mean for the budding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), a trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU?

When the opt-out provision was announced, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman pointed to its unfortunate timing.

“At a time when the U.S. and the EU are working to create further opportunities for growth and jobs through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, proposing this kind of trade restrictive action is not constructive," Froman said in a release. He went on to note “dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU's goal of deepening the internal market.”

Cary Sifferath, the U.S. Grains Council’s regional director for Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, said a huge potential hang-up could involve how “use” is defined under the opt-out clause. Potential transportation issues could arise, especially in countries with major ports such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Europe’s largest port, as well as issues with livestock, such as potentially disallowing animals fed with biotech ingredients in countries exercising the opt-out.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman called the current EU biotech situation “flat goofy.” In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Stallman said he doesn’t think the opt-out is compliant under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), complicating further trade discussions.

“They go into the WTO negotiating as an entity, and all of the elements of that entity need to comply with the rules,” Stallman said, equating the situation to the state of Texas deciding not to comply with a current U.S. treaty. “Doing business that way, it’s going to make it very difficult for us to do (T-TIP).”

Stallman isn’t alone in wondering if the EU will be able to negotiate agricultural provisions of the new agreement in good faith while still trying to uphold its stance on biotech crops. Zach Kinne, director of public policy with the National Corn Growers Association, said he hopes to see the provision – which still needs to go through more legislative channels within the EU – be withdrawn.

“It sort of makes you question their commitment to (T-TIP) negotiations when they’re putting policies out there like this that don’t exactly jibe with their WTO commitments and otherwise,” Kinne told Agri-Pulse. “I think we’ve got a long ways to go, they’re a huge trading partner, there’s a lot of opportunity there, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

With the potential for a patchwork of approvals and opt-outs across the 28-member bloc, Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, a trade association representing the crop protection industry, said the rule is only a symptom of a further issue of biotech acceptance in Europe.

“Frankly, more adult attention needs to be given to convincing the European consumer and electorate that it’s safe to use and plant biotechnology crops on their own soil,” Vroom said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “They’re harming their own farming sector and increasing costs to consumers by not adopting this technology.

“We believe the (EU) was constructed to create a single market, and we would encourage the European authorities to rethink this idea of breaking themselves apart.”



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