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Trade barriers, gene-modified food on table at G8 summit

(Monday, June 2, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Agricultural subisidies, the World Trade Organization, genetically modified crops and food aid to Africa are higlighted in the following stories.

  • African food on table at summit: US-Europe divide over trade barriers and gene-modified food was aired Sunday at G-8 meeting.

    MLONDOZI, SOUTH AFRICA - The sound of a hymn echoes across the sun-burned valley here. "Sikwe thembile baba, usigcne kwaba la," the women harmonize as they move rapidly through the field, pulling corn ears from dry, golden stalks. "We believe in God. He has brought us this far."

    It is harvest time, and the songs on Mfundeni Joseph Nkosi's farm are ones of thanks. Mr. Nkosi's crop - the first he's grown with genetically modified (GM) seeds - will be twice the normal size.

    For Nkosi, the decision to plant GM seeds was a pragmatic one, based on yields and costs. He has little idea of the international battle being waged over the food's safety. Nor does he know that thousands of miles to the north, leaders of the industrialized world met Sunday to discuss, among other things, trade barriers, GM foods, and their relationship to hunger in Africa, where 40 million people are estimated to be short of food.

    Policies discussed by the world's wealthiest nations at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Évian, France, could determine what and to whom African farmers can sell their goods, and whether African agricultural products will ever have a fair shake in the global marketplace. 'Africa is the battleground'

    The summit's host, French President Jacques Chirac, wants poverty in Africa to be high on the agenda. And in addition to the $15 billion package to fight disease he signed last week, President Bush called on Europe Saturday to drop its ban on genetically modified foods and to cut tariffs and reduce subsidies to European farmers.

    President Bush says European trade barriers and political pressure are preventing poor countries from embracing technology that could help improve food security. Europe says America just wants new markets for its GM food. Since the US is the largest single donor to worldwide food emergencies, and at least some of the donated food is GM, the issue will continue to haunt efforts to combat international starvation, as it did last year when Zambia refused US-donated food because of GM concerns.

    "Africa is the battleground," says Alex Wijeratna, campaigner for Action Aid UK, a British charity, and editor of a new report on GM and food security released on Wednesday. "It's the excuse that [the US] is using why everyone else should accept GM."

    Questions about GM's applicability to Africa are far from answered. The majority of the world's 143 million acres of GM crops were grown by commercial farmers in a handful of countries, not by the small farmers who comprise the majority of Africa's farming sector.

    And, as opponents of the technology like Mr. Wijeratna point out, the drought-resistant crops GM proponents say will revolutionize African agriculture have yet to be developed. Although some projects to develop African-specific GM seeds are under way - Kenya for example has been working to develop a pest-resistant sweet potato - technology of this sort has yet to make it to the market.

    In South Africa, the only African nation that has commercially licensed genetically modified crops, a few small farmers have begun experimenting with GM seeds. Here in Mlondozi, a poor rural area near South Africa's border with Swaziland, more than 1,000 farmers planted GM corn after trying small samples of the seed last year. Their success or failure could influence the way Africa bends on GM issue.

    Although the specific science of genetic modification eludes Mr. Nkosi, a distinguished looking man with a white curly beard and cowboy hat who speaks Swazi and a smattering of English, he says Monsanto's CRN 4549Bt, or "the seed that resists stockborer," as he calls it, grows more corn for less work than his old seeds. Usually he has to spray his fields several times to control the pest, whose larvae eat the inside of the stalk, leaving it brittle and stealing nutrition from the ear. This year, he says, his ears were plump and full without any pesticide.

    GM opponents dispute that the technology leads to higher yields or less pesticide use. They also worry that farmers like Nkosi will become dependent on purchased seeds and the companies like Monsanto who produce them. However, this dependence already exists to some degree, since many farmers rely on hybrid seeds that must be purchased year after year.

    If Nikosi has one complaint about his new seeds, it is their expense. A 22-pound bag of GM seeds costs about 25 percent more than non-GM seeds - about $6 - although he said at least some of that cost is recovered by a reduction in pesticide use.

    Still, Nkosi says he is happy about his new seeds. "I would love, God willing, to plant all my 10 hectares [25 acres] with these seeds next year," he says. The wrong focus

    Anti-GM groups worry that the focus on new miracle seeds fails to take into account the real reasons for the continent's food insecurity: poor soil, poverty, lack of good transportation networks, and unsustainable agricultural practices including having to purchase seeds. Instead, they say the solution to African hunger lies in organic and other natural farming processes. Not only will this help small farmers produce more, they say, it also could be a source of new export markets. Countries like Zambia and Kenya have recently had success in growing winter vegetables for European markets, which could be harmed by the introduction of GM crops.

    "It's a fact that there is hunger in Africa," says Thabo Madihlaba, executive director of the South African Environmental Justice Networking Forum which last week protested outside a biotechnology conference in Johannesburg. "But we think emphasis should be placed on natural systems."

    GM seed producers like Monsanto make no claim that their products are a panacea for Africa's food security problems. Instead, they say it is part of a larger solution that can help reduce pesticide use and increase yields, ultimately making small farmers more profitable. And they argue that since fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides are often difficult and expensive for small farmers to acquire, the more that can be packed into the seed itself, the better for the farmer.

    "These farmers are not stupid," says Shadrack Mabuza, who runs Monsanto's smallholder project in Southern Africa. "They want to move away from subsistence farming and will choose the seed with the biggest yield."

    Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0602/p06s01-woaf.html

  • Battle Lines Are Drawn in Genetic Crop Dispute Conflict Will Play Out at G-8 Summit

    President George W. Bush has called European opposition to genetically altered crops a threat to efforts to end world hunger. But even many critics of Europe's stance say the president's argument does not stand up and that the dispute needs to be understood for what it is: a multibillion-dollar trans-Atlantic battle over agricultural trade. The disagreement will be played out this week at the meeting in France of the leading industrial countries. It pits European leaders, who say they are worried about the safety of importing genetically altered crops from the United States, against the Bush administration, which insists that Europe's attempts to block the crops are an illegal trade tactic. The trade dispute heated up after an intense lobbying effort in Washington, where some of the United States' most powerful interest groups farmers, the food industry and giant biotechnology companies have been pressing the Bush administration to take on their case at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Europe. Lawyers and lobbyists for some interest groups have descended on the White House and Capitol Hill over the past few weeks to influence policy-makers and lawmakers and, in some cases, to simply remind them of the importance of the Farm Belt in the next election. Some of the biggest agriculture and biotechnology companies in the United States have invested billions of dollars over the past decade to develop genetically altered crops. Nearly 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of farmland in the United States are now planted with genetically altered crops, and officials say farmers have lost about $500 million because they have been unable to export some biotechnology crops to Europe.

    We've been very patient with the Europeans, but their use of this ban as a trade barrier sets a precedent for countries around the world, said Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

    We rely on export markets for one-third of our crops; this is a nightmare, she added. Last week, the United States filed the equivalent of a lawsuit at the World Trade Organization, arguing that European efforts to block some genetically altered crops violated international trade rules. At the Group of Eight summit meeting in France this week, the Bush administration is expected to press its case that Europe must accept genetically altered crops. But instead of arguing in the name of Monsanto Co., the big agricultural biotechnology company, or of American farmers, Bush and his aides will raise the issue of fighting world hunger. In a speech last week he accused Europe of hindering the great cause of ending hunger in Africa by banning genetically modified crops. Administration officials say that such moves by Europe encourage African nations to reject technology that could save millions of lives. That has upset European diplomats who are negotiating a compromise on biotechnology.

    It is quite shocking of Mr. Bush to tell us to follow his lead on African aid when the United States gives one of the smallest proportions of its gross domestic product for global development of any other wealthy nation, a senior diplomat in Washington said. This has not helped us.

    Pascal Lamy, the top European Union trade official, even challenged the notion that Europe has a moratorium, saying it is on the verge of completing regulations that could open up the Continent to more genetically modified crops. Europe approved the sale of genetically altered soybeans in the 1990s, but in 1998 there came a moratorium on approving new biotechnology crops like certain varieties of genetically altered corn. So, while soybeans have been largely unaffected by the moratorium, corn exports have been harmed. Several agriculture experts who want to lift the European restrictions said the problem would not be solved by opening up Europe's market.

    It's quite a stretch to tie the problem of the ban against genetically modified food in Europe to starving children in Africa, said Dan Glickman, who served as a secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration. It is also a bit provocative to say the Europeans don't care about world hunger.

    Source: http://www.progressivefarmer.com/farmer/news/article.html?SMContentIndex=0&SMContentSet=0

  • Bush Seeks to Repair Relations in Europe, Promote Growth, Trade

    June 2 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is urging leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations to put aside their differences over the Iraq war and focus on expanding trade, sparking economic growth, fighting terrorism and reducing poverty in developing nations, two aides said.

    Bush arrived in Evian, France, for the annual summit of the G- 8 -- the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia -- amid debate over whether Iraq had the chemical or biological weapons Bush used to justify ousting Saddam Hussein from power.

    ``It can't be an easy summit for Bush,'' said Kenneth Courtis, vice chairman in Asia of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., who advised Canada during last year's G-8 meeting. ``Bush has a real credibility problem here because he sold the war on a basis that is increasingly difficult to defend. The trust in the U.S. is more problematic for many countries today, and a couple of them are sitting around that table.''

    Bush said Thursday U.S. forces in Iraq had found two mobile weapons laboratories. His chief ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, dismissed accusations the U.K. exaggerated Iraq's arms threat.

    In stops in Poland and Russia before his arrival in Evian, Bush stressed a broader need to stop the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

    In a meeting on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao told Bush that North Korea wants one-on-one talks with the U.S. to resolve the dispute over the Pyongyang regime's nuclear arms program, a U.S. official told reporters. Bush told Hu the U.S. alone lacks the influence to persuade North Korea to drop its weapons program, and will continue to involve North Korea's neighbors in the discussions, the official said.

    ``The policy hasn't changed,'' Bush said before the meeting. Hu accepted Bush's invitation to an official Washington visit, perhaps by year's end, the U.S. official said.

    Economic Concerns

    The G-8 leaders are meeting as the U.S. economy is showing signs of recovery, raising expectations that the global economy will pick up. Europe's economies stagnated in the first quarter.

    Bush, who pushed Congress to pass a $330 billion tax cut that he signed on Wednesday, also wanted to hear about steps other G-8 nations are taking to spur growth and remove obstacles to job creation, an administration aide told reporters on the president's plane to Evian.

    The president, who faces re-election next year, has made job- creation a staple of speeches this year. Underscoring the stakes, a Newsweek magazine poll of 1,009 adults Thursday and Friday showed 46 percent approved of Bush's handling of the economy, compared with 72 percent supporting him on the Iraq war.

    Seeking Public Confidence

    ``We all face different situations, but it's very important to coordinate and to gain the confidence of the public,'' Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said at a press conference in Evian. In France, ``they're fighting to reform the pensions, something that we've done in Canada,'' Chretien said. ``The problem of pensions in Europe is very difficult.''

    Bush signaled he'd offer an olive branch to the Europeans on the dollar's recent decline against the euro, saying Thursday he'd tell G-8 leaders the U.S. still backs a ``strong dollar.''

    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said the euro is too strong against the dollar and that's hurting European exports. The leaders will discuss the dollar's decline today, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.

    Bush is cutting short his participation in this year's G-8 summit to travel to Egypt and Jordan to press for progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

    AIDS Initiative

    Bush used a speech Saturday in Krakow, Poland, to lay out his G-8 agenda: expanding efforts to fight terrorism, provide food for the poor in developing nations, and combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

    The U.S. Congress has approved $1 billion for a Geneva-based World Fund to Fight AIDS, providing that U.S. donations account for no more than a third of the total. French President Jacques Chirac said his country ``backs totally'' the U.S. initiative for European Union countries to pledge $1 billion a year for five years to the fund.

    France will triple its contributions to the fund to $150 million, Chirac said. ``I hope this will be followed,'' he said, adding that ``it's not certain'' other EU governments or the EU as a whole will do so.

    The White House also will call for creation of a counter- terrorism unit, offering training to catch terrorists by cracking down on their finances and border-crossings, a U.S. official told reporters traveling with Bush.

    WTO Wrangle

    Bush also will urge the G-8 to jump-start world trade talks, the aide said. The talks stalled after Europe and the U.S. split over how far countries should go in reducing their government subsidies for agriculture. Negotiators are trying to reestablish momentum before a crucial September meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

    Member countries of the World Trade Organization have given themselves until January 2005 to reach a new agreement as part of the so-called ``Doha Round'' of global trade talks.

    The World Bank estimates that a WTO agreement, including cuts in industrial duties and greater access for banks, telecommunications and insurance companies in worldwide markets, would add $800 billion a year to the $31 trillion global economy.

    Still, in order to get that deal, the U.S. has said that the 15 members of the EU need to agree to cut their $40 billion a year in agricultural subsidies. The Geneva-based WTO missed a March deadline on how to open trade in farm products.

    ``If there isn't substantial movement on agriculture, we're going to have problems,'' in getting a WTO deal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told a meeting at the Institute for International Economics, a policy research group, last month.

    Agricultural producers such as Brazil and Australia have pressured both the U.S. and EU to live up to commitments made in 2001 to end farm export subsides and cut their payments to farmers. Subsidies help rich countries export crops at low prices, at the expense of poor, agrarian countries, critics say.

    Gene-Food Fight

    Reaching a deal has been further complicated by the U.S. challenging a European ban on genetically altered food at the WTO in a dispute that U.S. farmers say has cost them $1 billion in lost exports. EU officials have warned that the case risks unleashing a backlash by European consumers against both American products and the idea of free trade in general.

    While Bush has praised countries such as Poland for supporting the U.S. in Iraq, he now needs to repair relations with European critics if he's to win support for his broader agenda, said Courtis of Goldman Sachs.

    ``Bush is trying to cover a lot of bases: The new alliance with Eastern Europe; the deeper partnership with the Russians; he wants to mend fences as much as he can, knowing that it's going to take more than a couple meetings allow; he wants to build some momentum for peace talks in the Middle East,'' said Courtis. ``He's doing all of this with an eye on the elections in 2004.''