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EU trade talks top of mind for ASA

Wilkins highlighted three major areas in which EU biotech regulations and policies must be discussed during TTIP negotiations.

As part of the European Union (EU)-United States High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Forum held today in Washington, American Soybean Association (ASA) Executive Committee member Richard Wilkins spoke on the importance of including the unique nature of American agriculture and of soybean farming in upcoming negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Del., noted the importance of the EU as an export market for American soybeans and soy products, but also cited the significant drop in recent exports as a result of EU policies.

“In 1997, we exported 10.3 million tons of [soy] products to EU Member States. However, by 2012 the volume of exports had fallen by over 81 percent to 1.9 million tons. We believe an important cause for this sharp decline is the EU’s requirements that food products derived from agricultural biotechnology enhancement be labeled, and more recently the EU’s discriminatory policies on biofuel feedstocks under its Renewable Energy Directive (RED).”

Within his presentation, Wilkins highlighted three major areas in which EU biotech regulations and policies must be discussed during TTIP negotiations, including correcting the EU approval process for new biotech enhancement traits such that approvals are subject to deadlines and based only on scientific criteria; the establishment of commercially-feasible international standards for the Low Level Presence of unapproved biotech traits in commodity shipments; and addressing the unlawful practice of prohibiting imports of biotech-enhanced commodities that have been approved by EU Commissioners.

Wilkins also raised farmer concerns with the Renewable Energy Directive, or RED, which places inaccurate and unscientific greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable land use benchmarks on American soybeans, restricting their use as a feedstock for biodiesel production in Europe, and significantly hampering the potential in the European marketplace.

“The U.S. soy industry has worked with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to initiate negotiations with the EU on a bilateral agreement under which documented  producer compliance with U.S. conservation laws would be deemed as achieving the RED’s sustainability requirements,” said Wilkins. “If the U.S. is to maintain even its current limited access to the EU market for soybean exports, the TTIP must guarantee that negotiations on an aggregate bilateral agreement will go forward, as provided for under the RED.”

Finally, Wilkins cited the soybean industry’s opposition to the EU’s proposed Ecologically-Focused Areas (EFA) program which ASA believes would nullify and impair U.S. access to the EU market for soybeans and soybean meal and violate the Blair House Agreement reached at the end of the Uruguay Round negotiations.

“We understand that the goal of this Forum and of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations is to identify and work to harmonize areas where our respective regulations and laws currently restrict bilateral trade,” concluded Wilkins in his address. “However, unless regulations, laws and interpretation of laws are addressed, access to the EU market will continue to be impaired, and exports of U.S. soybeans and soy products will remain below historical levels.”

For a full transcript of Wilkins’ comments, see here.

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