May 7, 2015

European Union Approves Import of 17 Biotech Crop Traits

The European Union on Friday issued a host of approvals for various biotech traits covering everything from corn and cotton to rapeseed and soybeans.  The approvals cover importation, food, feed and industrial uses but came with a caveat; Individual member states will be able to opt out of the approval.  The move means that while the genetically engineered traits are deemed safe, any individual member of the EU bloc may deny access of the products for any host of reasons.

After the announcement there was a flood of feedback. The American Farm Bureau stated the decision violates international trade laws and undermines the foundation of having an EU bloc.   Other sources pointed to a recent International Soybean Growers Alliance study that says any three year delay in trait approval for soybeans over the next ten years will cost the U.S. economy nearly $19 billion dollars.

In any event, the news is sure to spark additional debate in Congress where Trade Promotion Authority is on its way to the respective chamber floors. Last week’s Ways and Means committee debate on the bill had committee chair Paul Ryan vowing to make sure language would be added to a final bill ensuring that “non-tariff trade barriers”, like the EU decision would have to be dropped before any agreement could be reached.

Included in the EU’s approval were both Pioneer’s Plenish high oleic soybean trait and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold high oleic trait.  On the Pioneer side, the approval means that the Plenish trait and the Roundup Ready 1 trait are now both approved individually for import to the European Union.  However, the seed is only available in a stack of the two traits which Pioneer hopes to have approval on by late this year.  Monsanto’s Vistive Gold trait is still waiting on approval by China, which they hope to have by sometime in 2016 followed by a full commercial launch.

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Senate Finance Committee Passes TPA; Bill Moves To Floor

The product of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans – Trade Promotion Authority and other trade bills advanced through the Senate Finance Committee – after an objection by one Democrat kept the panel from meeting for hours. Chairman Orrin Hatch called it an historic bill:

Hatch

Hatch says in a clear appeal to reluctant Democrats that lawmakers and the public will be able to review trade deals before they are signed. Top Finance Democrat Ron Wyden appealed to organized labor and other backers of his party:

Wyden

Ag Senator Chuck Grassley argues American agriculture also needs a level playing field in trade:

Grassley

Grassley also backed a bipartisan amendment to toughen TPA language targeted largely at China to stop countries from intentionally undervaluing currencies to make their export goods cheaper. The package of trade bills – facing time pressure from Trans Pacific trade talks – could hit the Senate floor soon.

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Senate Finance Committee Continues Hearing on TPA

All eyes were on the Senate Finance committee this morning as they continued last weeks hearing on Trade Promotion Authority. This week’s agenda featured testimony focused less on agriculture and more on business, labor and manufacturing issues. First testimony came from Thomas Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

Donohue 1

He explained why fast track authority is needed:

Donohue 2

However, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO disputed those claims:

Trumka

No official mark up of the Senate TPA bill has been announced yet but it’s widely believed the meeting to do so will be held sometime on Thursday.  Most congressional Democrats oppose fast track and the administration has scrambled for support.

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