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GM dispute could tip TTIP over

Listen to part 1 of our World of Agriculture series on TTIP by clicking here.
Listen to part 2 of our World of Agriculture series on TTIP by clicking here.

If the proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union is going to involve agricultural trade, particularly that of GM crops, cultural sensitivities to genetic modification of food in the E.U. must be overcome. If they are not, aspects of the deal covering other areas of commerce will proceed without any mention of agriculture, and the chance for such a broad agreement may not present itself again.

Called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP, the deal would open a convoluted and impractical European export market for American commodities containing genetic sequences or “events.” Currently, each new genetic event must be vetted by each of the E.U.’s member states in turn, and oftentimes events aren’t approved on the basis of cultural sensitivities.

Vice Chairman of the U.S. Grains Council Julius Schaaf, above, calls this the “precautionary principle.” Its logic states that difficulty in knowing tomorrow’s outcome for GM approval today necessitates an effective ban on GM commodities. The effective ban and mistrust of GMOs both fit well into a deeper European mindset of self-sufficiency. Much agriculture in the E.U. grows food that remains domestic. The chief exceptions to this exist in difficult years when conditions are poor and yields are low.

Schaaf also has a theory that member states’ appeal to the precautionary principle is, in practice, obfuscation. While in Brussels, Schaaf was told about a typical response to the approval process.

Italy comes back and says ‘You know, we’re not going to approve this because culturally, we’re against GMOs.’
Really, it’s about keeping their farmers competitive. They feel like, if they hold the U.S. out, then that allows their farmers to have access to other markets.

The World Trade Organization allows for cultural exceptions to the technical barrier to trade agreement to which its members must agree, but Schaaf says the E-U is going above and beyond cultural exceptions in its opposition to GM events.
But even going above and beyond, Schaaf says TTIP has the potential to be successful right now; already the opposition has an Achille’s heel.

People in the government get it. The people in power get it, the educated people – and a lot of their E.U. commissioners – they get it that this is important.
But they want to get elected. They don’t dare speak out.

Since the 1970s, Schaaf says the European “green” lobby has resisted modern agricultural progress in the form of GMOs, and they’ve been successful in swaying public opinion. Even with a public opposed to GMOs, however, Schaaf views politicians’ being torn as helpful to the passage of an E.U./U.S. free trade agreement.
Should TTIP proceed through Congress with its agriculture provisions, Schaaf says at least three markets could open immediately: England, Ireland and Spain, all of which have a near-constant demand for corn.