Early in September, Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill joined the American Farm Bureau Federation Trade Advisory Committee in visiting World Trade Organization offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium to weigh in on market access issues with a farmer's perspective.
In spite of a positive trade balance on ag products, the delegation argued trade barriers, like Europe's dismissal of GMO grains, remain an impediment to the free flow of goods between the United States and foreign trading partners.
AFB and other stakeholders supporting GMOs, including the federal government, ask for a scientific approach to approval of biotech products. Hill says Europe's current approach is anything but.
He says, "It's such an emotionally charged issue. The public is very much against GMO's. But when you start to speak to the farmers, they're very acceptive of, and they would rather prefer to have genetic engineered crops growing in Europe. But it is such a stigma and it's so difficult to overcome, politicians aren't willing to take the risk and step forward and advance a rational conversation."
This year American farmers will produce more grain and oilseeds than they've ever grown before - about 14 billion bushels of corn and four billion bushels of soybeans.
Hill says this year's grain production levels underscore the need for the free flow of goods.
"We're going to have to find a market for that, and so we don't need barriers. Whether it's a bilateral agreement, whether it's a multi-lateral agreement, we need to move this product overseas, to a destination where it can be used." He says, "So, market access, is incredibly important in this juncture in agriculture. We're working very hard to develop these agreements and build rules-based trading."
Hill points out that ongoing progress is slow on trade deals like the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership and the bilateral Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and that granting the president Trade Promotion Authority to speed trade deals through Congress is one way to work at home in ensuring market access remains open for American ag products.