CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Innovation and trade should not be
suppressed as the global demand for food continues to rapidly increase,
according to a former chief agricultural trade negotiator.
Dick Crowder, former chief agricultural negotiator for the
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and former undersecretary of agriculture
for International Affairs and Commodity Programs, spoke of the critically
important role of trade in meeting food security during the recent International
More than 200 biotechnology regulators, international trade
experts and farmers from 16 countries on five continents met at the symposium to
discuss the state of the agricultural biotechnology regulatory systems and its
implications for the future, as well as explore some solutions.
The symposium was hosted by the Illinois Soybean
Referring to Steve Jobs’ quote, “we are just one world now,”
Crowder said, “that best describes what we are in agriculture and where we are
“Policies related to technology and biotech should encourage
the adoption of technology and should emphasize efficient trade flows,” he
World demand for food is projected to double in the first
half of this century, fueled by income growth, urbanization and population
“We do know that we cannot meet this demand with roughly 10
percent more arable, we cannot meet it with less water, we cannot meet it with
less labor because of urbanization, we cannot meet it with the same technology
and we cannot meet it with the same policies — that’s a given,” Crowder
“Instead, we’re going to have to have new technology, and
this includes agronomic technology, transportation technology. It also includes
processing technology. It’s a system. Biotech is just one component of
A shift in crop production locations also is
“I emphasize this because of the importance that trade is
going to play to provide food security. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
projections are that the U.S. is going to increase its share of the corn export
market by ten percentage points,” Crowder said.
“Brazil and Argentina are going to increase their share of
the soybean market by roughly 10 percentage points. China is going to increase
its share of consumption. So the amount that has to move in trade is going to
Crowder said some question if food production can be doubled
over the next four decades.
“My answer is, ‘Yes, we can get there.’ We have doubters
that say we can’t, but good old agriculture has proved the doubters wrong since
the time of (Thomas) Malthus,” he said.
Without efficient trade flows “we cannot solve the food
security problem,” Crowder said. “Policies that undermine efficient trade flows
decrease food security, and they increase the volatility in supply and demand,
hurting both the supplier and the customer.
“In the new global environment, the best source of food
security will not be found in the concept of self-sufficiency, but will be found
in reliable trading partners.
“Unpredictable suppliers will become suppliers of last
resort, and uncertainty created by customers because of lack of biotech
approvals will result in a rich premium that they pay for their product.”
Crowder noted the potential biotech trade disruption points.
“The variations in risk assessment and approval systems are
particularly problematic,” he said.
“Risk assessment is a precautionary principal and if it were
to be accepted would be particularly problematic. It must be guarded against in
free trade agreements and in the World Trade Organization.
“It’s been a longstanding issue in trade negotiations, and
it could be a real issue in the U.S.-European Union trade negotiations.”
“Asynchronous approval is costly in terms of time to
commercialization and in trade risk. Zero tolerance on the (low level presence
of genetically modified organisms) increases risk that the seed in commercial
products will be subject to disruptions.
“And, finally, there are the completely arbitrary
restrictions imposed strictly for political or protectionist reasons.”
Crowder said those potential disruptions are not
Examples of trade disruptions that have occurred include the
EU beef hormone case in 1989 that “hasn’t been resolved yet — it’s strictly
based on precautionary principles,” he said.
“The EU biotech case is a precautionary principle. The
exclusion of Chinese cooked poultry into the U.S. is a U.S. barrier that has its
roots in politics.
“U.S. beef to China is rooted in politics and in trade
barriers. The U.S. beef to Japan, which we recently solved, had its roots in
protectionism disguising themselves as food safety.”
Crowder noted the policy template the negotiating team
utilized during his time as chief ag negotiator.
“We did not always achieve 100 percent of this, but I found
it to be useful and I think it is useful today,” he said. “The risk assessment
and approval system should be science-based, resulting in sound decisions, not
arbitrary movements. It should be transparent where all sides understand the
process and the outcome.
“They should be predictable to remove uncertainty. It should
be timely with no unnecessary delays such as caused by the asynchronization and
so forth. It should be consistent with the World Trade Organization standards.
“Lastly is communications. In all of the agreements we
looked at, we wanted a consultant mechanism in there.
“You force yourself to sit down and meet at least once a
year to head off problems or to solve problems. These could be real or imaginary
problems, but the communication process needs to be there and it needs to stay.
“Such an approach, in my opinion, promotes the efficiency of
free trade flows and I think will continue to do that.
“In the first half of this century, we will see the largest
rural-to-urban migration we’ve seen in history. Think about what that does for
labor in the rural areas. We’ll most likely see the largest shift in regional
income generation that we’ve ever seen before.
“We will see the largest increase in global food demand.
This means that we collectively have to get our policies in trade and
technologies correct. We cannot afford to suppress innovation or trade.”