Free Trade with Europe

December 12, 2013

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you. 

And now for today’s commentary— 

We should get a farm bill in January. It appears that we now have a budget. That helps because now the Ag Department will know how much money the Department has to spend. Let’s keep the pressure on to get it done. 

The subject that I want to focus on today has not had enough attention in my judgment. We all know how important trade is to the ag industry. We are in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union. The “Economist” magazine tells us that “a free trade pact has never had such support in Europe” as it does today. 

So, where do we start? Tariffs are already very low. What is there to do?  

Regulatory barriers – they are very severe. Here is how severe they are. U.S. approved cars cannot be driven on European roads until they have special review by European regulators. I think we all know that agricultural trade has long been a major area of US-EU contention. They have used regulations as non-tariff barriers to protect their agriculture for years. I remember when they forced the inspection of all of our meat processing plants. Today, they are blocking a host of GE crops. The list is long. 

Now, just as the trade talks get under way –  

Europe has taken new steps in the wrong direction. The European Commission has laid out a set of new rules that could effectively ban a quarter to a third of U.S. agricultural output and keep out U.S. products for controlling weeds, funguses and insects.  

The new European rules would ban the importation of fruits, vegetables and grains when even the tiniest residues of so-called “endocrine disruptors” are detected. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject, but our scientists tell us that detection methods can now register trace residues in such minute quantities that, as a practical matter, compliance will be all but impossible to achieve.  

Worse, the science behind this concept is extremely controversial. Many natural as well as man-made substances impact the human endocrine system, including soy, sunlight and sugar. Even exercise could be considered an “endocrine disruptor, though it is clearly not harmful.  

Leading scientific journals regarding chemical hazards have accused the European Commission of acting “contrary to science.”  

If the major challenge of the trade negotiations is harmonization of regulations, then promulgating unscientific rules that look like a smokescreen for protectionism could destroy our highly promising trade talks before they get fully underway.  

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.