Following is an excerpt from a report on the roundtable discussion hosted by the Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on March 2, 2023.
The United States has not been engaging in traditional free trade agreements with tariff elimination or reduction for the past few years. Other countries like the EU, Canada, Japan, and Australia have been, though, and this often leaves U.S. exporters at a relative disadvantage.
Notwithstanding, market access is not all about tariffs, especially in agriculture. Technical regulations and SPS barriers can be as restrictive and costly as a tariff.
The WTO SPS Agreement provides a baseline. All WTO members signed on to the WTO SPS Agreement, which encourages governments to establish national SPS measures consistent with international standards, guidelines, and recommendations, and based on science and risk assessments. SPS provisions are important because they incorporate the science and risk analysis provisions. The agreement has withstood the test of time and continues to provide a sound and viable framework for all countries regardless of developing country status. Roundtable participants also agreed that future trade agreements should address new and emerging issues, including as the science advances on the benefits of biotechnology.
USMCA is the first U.S. trade agreement to include agricultural biotechnology provisions (whereas TPP and its successor agreement, the CPTPP, did not). The SPS and biotech provisions in USMCA, and even the U.S.-China Phase One agreement, are examples of how to incorporate modern agriculture issues in new ways that are consistent with the WTO SPS Agreement. Note that it is the SPS provisions of USMCA that USTR is currently disputing with Mexico on corn.
Developing countries don’t always have the infrastructure to test or approve biotech products, and some countries have indicated that they will approve a new product only after five other countries have done so. More consistency or at least compatibility in the gene editing regulatory space would facilitate trade.
Europe still maintains relatively strict regulations on biotechnology that can hinder advancements. Participants noted that U.S. and EU officials meet semiannually for U.S.-EU biotech consultations, but some questioned the usefulness of these talks. The days of FTAs are not necessarily over forever, but in agriculture we need transparency and science-based regulatory approaches as much as we need traditional market access. So, to the extent an FTA is not possible with a particular country or region, then our negotiators can shift the negotiations toward these other key areas and move forward with advocating for transparent, science-based regulatory processes. This is especially advantageous for developing countries that face a more acute need to improve their own productivity to feed their people.