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"Let’s Take Advantage of It," Biotech in the US-EU Trade Agreement

September 13, 2013
As the second round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks approach Brussels in October, several noteworthy articles remind us why biotech is such an important driving force in these discussions. Dean Kleckner, chairman emeritus for Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT), in recent articles in the Washington Times and Des Moines Register wrote a piece titled “Ending Flaky Trade Barriers,” highlighting challenges within the US-EU trade agreement and illustrating why biotech should play a key role in these negotiations:

Europe’s non-scientific approach to food safety represents one of the deepest divisions between the two sides — and one of the greatest aggravations for Americans, whose food-safety standards are both first-rate and more accepting of new technologies.  For years, Europe has used food safety as an all-purpose excuse for protectionist policies that exclude U.S. products from its markets. I’ll never forget when the Europeans required U.S. workers to wear white rubber boots in U.S. slaughterhouses that wanted to export meat to the EU. Not red or black or green boots — white boots — just like the workers wore in European slaughterhouses.

 The most significant challenge, however, may be the acceptance of biotechnology as a tool in crop production. Europe has refused to join the gene revolution that has transformed agriculture around the world, allowing farmers to grow more food on less land. All the while, many of its officials have maintained a maddening posture of extreme sanctimony. A lot of them know better, and will say so in private conversation.

 So the current moment may provide an opportunity not only to conclude a trade agreement with Europeans who are ready to make a deal, but also, perhaps, to nudge the EU toward a more sensible, science-based approach on technology.

This may be a once-in-my-lifetime opportunity. Let’s take advantage of it.

 The United States Chamber of Commerce has estimated that eliminating trans-Atlantic tariffs would boost trade between the U.S. and EU—now worth about $1 trillion—by more than $120 billion within five years.” Additionally, “while tariffs between the U.S. and EU are low, averaging 3%-4%, duties on U.S. agriculture in Europe average 18%, or twice the level of U.S. agricultural duties for the E.U.,” according to the World Trade Organization. This shines a light on unfavorable market conditions that need to be addressed.

BIO views the TTIP as the opportunity to the United States and Europe to forge a new trading relationship, one that encourages agricultural innovation as a way to address the world’s most pressing challenges: food, water and energy security and climate change.

Specifically, industry seeks an outcome that includes timely and predictable implementation of the EU’s laws and regulations.  Too often, political interference results in significant procedural delays after a positive scientific opinion has been issues for biotechnology products.  This has resulted in a significant backlog of products pending approval.  Currently 74 applications are queued in the approval process – of these, 52 are proceeding through scientific assessment stage and 22 have received a positive scientific opinion.  Of the 22 products, many are simply awaiting renewals, yet the political process has delayed the decision from between 1 and 3.5 years.

 In July, Monsanto issued this statement: “We will no longer be pursuing approvals for cultivation of new biotech crops in Europe. Instead, we will focus on enabling imports of biotech crops into the EU and the growth of our current business there,” (read more). With that in mind, the U.S. industry is poised for some tough, but potentially fruitful discussions negotiating TTIP.

 For a European perspective on the U.S.-E.U. Trade Agreement visit here.