WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2016 - Advisory teams to the U.S. Grains Council will issue plans for 2016 today that are expected to address market development and regulatory matters.

One topic sure to get lots of attention at USGC’s annual meeting this week in Sarasota, Florida, is what can be done about troublesome biotech approval protocols in foreign markets, particularly China and the EU.

Floyd Gaibler, USGC’s director of trade policy and biotechnology, said the “unprecedented” chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership dealing with biotech may help.

“We believe that this serves as kind of foundational trade architecture for the recognition of biotech as an important aspect of trying to deal with global food security,” Gaibler said. “I think it may be even helpful in terms of trying to work through the biotech issues (in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU).”

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the new language in the TPP means member countries will agree to “increased transparency and cooperation on certain activities related to agricultural biotechnology.” Should China decide to join TPP and be subject to the language in that chapter, USGC would be OK with that. If that same chapter were to be included in T-TIP, the Grains Council would be OK with that, too. Primarily, Gaibler said, he just wants to know what to expect from the EU process.

“When you get right down to it, what we’re asking the EU to do is simply abide by their laws and regulations and be more timely and predictable,” he said. “We’re not asking them to change the way they evaluate or lower their standards.”

China might be a little trickier. The world’s largest country is facing some of the same problems involving biotech as the U.S., some say, with an urban elite using emotional arguments in what should be a strictly scientific conversation. This has led to mandatory GMO labeling in China and a confusing biotech approval process. Bryan Lohmar, USGC’s China director, said many of the issues surrounding the Chinese approval process are shrouded in confusion.

“It’s not timely, and it’s not entirely transparent how they come up with some of these criteria,” he said. “There are enormous advantages to biotechnology, and China could benefit greatly from genetic engineering, no doubt.”

While USGC will continue to promote grain exports through obvious avenues like approval of the TPP and completion of T-TIP, USGC chair Alan Tiemann told Agri-Pulse that the organization will focus on things like ethanol promotion in the more immediate future. Tiemann called ethanol “the new shining star that we’re looking to grow” in terms of exports around the world. He said air quality issues internationally could mean good opportunities in countries looking to use the fuel to cut down on gasoline emissions.

“It’s not a market that’s going to happen overnight, but it’s something that we’re really going to focus on to try and move ethanol,” Tiemann said. He pointed to Peru and the Philippines, where ethanol blending mandates aren’t being fulfilled, as potential customers for U.S. ethanol.

As talk in Washington shifts to conversations about the next farm bill, USGC President and CEO Tom Sleight said he wants to “inform the dialogue” to include USDA programs designed to build international markets for U.S. commodities. They include the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development programs, which were authorized in previous farm bills.


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