Some farm groups praise Mexico trade deal

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Trump administration’s tentative trade deal with Mexico could boost bioengineered crops, agriculture groups said.

Details will emerge in the coming days as negotiators finalize the agreement, but the administration said it would embrace the newer science of gene editing — going a step beyond the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“It’s positive,” said David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Like any trade agreement, you try to get stuff in there.”

Promotion of biotechnology is likely to inflame conflicts between agribusiness and the environmental and organic agriculture groups that oppose genetically engineered food.

Negotiators are using the talks to clear the way for more coordination and consultation between the countries in adopting genetic engineering and ensuring that each other’s products face few barriers in future trade. Free trade agreements going forward need to include such provisions, Salmonsen said.

And with Canada so far excluded from the talks, pressure may grow on Ottawa to join in, forging a still-wider embrace of the newest biotechnology.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which supports bioengineering in agriculture, said it couldn’t speculate about the deal’s effect beyond the expansion noted in the administration’s statement. But language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — from which Trump withdrew — hints at the types of provisions Canada might ultimately accept in a new deal, a spokesman said.

That agreement calls on parties to share information such as risk assessments for biotech products and techniques for measuring low levels of biotech material in food shipments, in case the importing country doesn’t allow them.

Some environmental groups, as well as advocates for organic agriculture, oppose wider adoption of genetically modified crops. They have made gains in the European Union through bans there, but Mexico and Canada have been more accepting.

The Center for Food Safety, for instance, opposed the TPP, saying it could compromise food safety and environmental standards, giving companies a route to sue governments for limits on genetically modified crops.

When New Zealand signed the TPP in 2016, Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell called the deal “a race to the bottom as governments are forced to sacrifice food safety regulations in order to appease multi-national corporations.”

In its announcement on the deal yesterday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the arrangement would, for the first time, include all biotechnologies.

“Specifically, the United States and Mexico have agreed to provisions to enhance information exchange and cooperation on agricultural biotechnology trade-related matters,” USTR said.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue touted the provision on biotechnology in a conference call with reporters yesterday, citing it as part of an effort to promote U.S. farm products as the administration pushes back in its disputes with trading partners. Canada and Trump have tussled over barriers on various farm products.

“We now hope that Canada will see the need to settle all of the outstanding issues between our two nations as well, and restore us to a true North American Free Trade Agreement,” Perdue said.