Washington Insider-- Tuesday

The EU and GMO Soybeans

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Democrats Detail 'Standards' Demanded for New Trade Agreements: Platform

Enforceable labor and environmental protections, access to medicines and protection of a free and open internet are elements that should be in all U.S. trade deals, according to the 2016 Democratic Party Platform.

The platform is critical of the dispute settlement mechanism in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other U.S. trade agreements, which allows investors to bring claims against member states based on commitments in the agreement.

"These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership," the platform, released July 21, said.

Critics have said that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism undermines the right of governments to protect citizens, and the platform said the U.S. should never enter an agreement that would prevent a government from promulgating environmental, food safety or health rules.

Both the Democratic and Republican platforms also target China, citing unfair trade practices and currency manipulation, among other things, which harm U.S. workers and companies.

The Democratic platform did not rule out a lame-duck vote by Congress on TPP, but an adviser to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said the pact doesn't meet the standards set out in the party platform. The Republican platform said significant trade agreements, like TPP, shouldn't be undertaken in a lame duck session of Congress.

The Democratic platform, like the Republican platform, singled out China with regard to unfair trade practices and currency manipulation and called for holding countries to account by increasing enforcement of trade rules and other tools.

U.S., Mexico Leaders Tout Trade, Reject Border Wall

A series of trade and commerce efforts, including pushing for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, were announced by President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, during a July 22 joint news conference.

The two presidents highlighted cooperative efforts and the need for global integration, and rejected calls from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others to build a wall to slow immigration from Mexico to the U.S.

They also agreed to make permanent a forum for Cabinet-level discussions on economic competitiveness, trade and commerce; implement the bilateral Air Transport Agreement; continue work on sharing border crossing information to assist travelers; beef up border crossing infrastructure projects; and reduce black carbon emissions.

"Through forums like our high-level economic dialogue, we're going to keep working to boost trade and grow our economies and create more opportunity for our people," Obama said.

TPP will make and already "extraordinarily strong" U.S. economic relationship with Mexico even stronger, Obama said.

Nieto, speaking through an interpreter, said that the pending TPP provides an opportunity to update the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) after member countries have had more than 20 years of experience with NAFTA.

"One of the values of TPP is that we've learned from our experiences in NAFTA what's worked, what hasn't, where we can strengthen it," Obama said. Several TPP provisions address criticisms of NAFTA, Obama said.

Washington Insider: The EU and GMO Soybeans

DTN and Bloomberg are both reporting this week that the European Union has approved several genetically engineered varieties of soybeans. The decision was by the European Commission and overruled an earlier one by the Parliament, which had objected to the soybeans because they are used with the herbicide glyphosate.

The commission, the EU's executive arm, said it decided to grant authorizations through 2026 for several Monsanto varieties, and one from Bayer CropScience. The authorizations apply to use of the crops in the EU in food or feed, although not for local cultivation. Food and feed sold in the EU that contains GMOs must be labeled as such, Bloomberg said.

The commission noted that the European Food Safety Authority judged the soybeans safe. They had been subject to votes in regulatory committees consisting of EU member state representatives. Under the extremely complex EU system, the committees voted "no opinion" meaning that the commission was left to decide on the authorizations.

In February, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution saying the authorizations should not go ahead, although the Parliament has no formal power to intervene in the authorization process. Still, some lawmakers sought to halt the approvals on the basis that the soybeans tolerate glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate was especially controversial because the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer had categorized it as "probably carcinogenic," in some applications. Numerous other assessments have contradicted that finding.

Also, the EU had reauthorized glyphosate for 18 months as recently as last June while the European Chemicals Agency attempts to decide if it should be classified as carcinogenic.

Bloomberg noted that the commission said that the authorization decisions approving the three soybeans will be published in the EU Official Journal "after a few days."

Policies for food technology, especially those based on biotechnology have been particularly difficult for the exquisitely politically sensitive EU which has enshrined the "precautionary principle" as a key basis for food policy decisions and which is frequently used to undercut science. That makes it difficult to evaluate compounds which are used to manage pests and are widely considered safe for humans at approved dosages—but which may be toxic above threshold levels.

Advocate groups have found political opposition to these widely used production tools to be a powerful fundraiser, especially for a food sector that has been conditioned by decades of expensive interventions by the EU Common Agricultural Policy. At the same time, analysts frequently note that EU policies are widely reflected by those in African and other developing countries who want to sell their products in Europe but are widely constrained in their production systems by the Bloc's political constraints.

Internal EU food technology disapprovals have been challenged frequently by the United States and others—with many important findings simply ignored—so, it will be important to note what happens to this decision. Given the long reluctance of the EU to respond to either science or its own economic interests, it seems unlikely that the treatment of these GMO varieties will mean anything like a breakthrough for tech products in terms of access to EU markets. Still, it seems like a more positive approach than many had expected, and one that should be watched carefully for future implications, Washington Insider believes.

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