Top agriculture officials from more than 100 countries were in the U.S. this week for the Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology. In advance of the Sacramento gathering, the White House began pushing U.S. trade partners to be more receptive to American exports of genetically engineered products.
That's a tough pill for some U.S. trading partners to swallow, especially the Europeans. Governments there, pressured by vociferous farm and green party activists, have been more than a little reticent to open their ports to GMO goods. But the two sides are talking, and this week there were signs of reaching a middle ground.
In a bi-partisan effort to take action against countries blocking the entry of U.S. agricultural goods, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana introduced new trade legislation this week. The measure will instruct the United States Trade Representative to identify foreign countries denying fair and marketable right of entry to U.S. products. The legislation also calls on the U.S. Trade Representative to target countries not making significant progress in trade negotiations or acting in good faith on previous agreements.
The bill was spawned by complaints from farm organizations and agriculture industry groups, Grassley and Baucus singled out Mexico, a North American Free Trade Agreement partner, as an example. Both senators cited the NAFTA partner for blocking the importation of U.S. goods like high fructose corn syrup through the imposition of high tariffs.
The US Agriculture Products Act is only in its first stages but a five-year old battle with the European Union over biotech rages on. U.S. interests have put the full-court press on the EU to open their borders to the newest strains of U.S. genetically modified seeds. In the wake of the recent WTO action against the EU for just such an infringement, President Bush has upped the ante' by implying that citizens of African nations are at a greater risk of starving without access to GMOs. Though only the country of South Africa allows its farmers to use GMOs, most African producers are hesitant to grow crops that can not be exported to Europe, the only major market in close proximity.
This week, the long-standing feud was part of the commentary between US Trade Representative Robert Zoellich and European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.
Robert Zoellich, U.S. Trade Representative: "I know that there is a preoccupation in Europe understandable about how the case affects European discussions. We have to also think globally."
Pascal Lamy, EU Trade Commissioner: "That's seen from the European side. The fact that this is pushed by the U.S. Agribusiness, which has lots of surpluses to get rid of under the form of food aid, is not helping those in Europe."
Both Lamy and Zoellich have pledged to work out those differences.