Washington’s chief agriculture trade negotiator spent Monday in Iowa. Allen F. Johnson grew up working on Iowa farms, and this July he helped negotiate the World Trade Organization’s agreement that’s being called a breakthrough for U.S. ag export opportunities. Trade is “not an uncontroversial issue,” he says, and this summer’s WTO agreement calls for an end to export subsidies. Johnson says the US doesn’t have them or has barely a quarter the level of export subsidies European nations do, and so to level the playing field the July agreement calls on European farm exporters to cut more than we do. While some of our trading partners have expressed dislike for genetically-modified products, Johnson says GMO’s are not a barrier to all trade. All countries have an obligation to base their decisions on science and he says the World Trade Organization has a case against Europe for refusing American imports for several years now without revising that stance, even though their own science says the products are safe. Johnson says biotech exports like grain from US farmers will be safe and should be approved as agreed by international trade agreements. He says farm marketers have more challenges than ever. Customers are more demanding than ever, wanting special traits bred into their seed, and farmers want to identify unique markets where the buyers will pay premium prices, society puts higher environmental demands on growers, and it’s a more globally-competitive environment. The export markets can’t be ignored by anyone, Johnson says. Soybean farmers export almost 50-percent of their crop as grain and processed food, corn farmers sell about 20-percent of their crop “and that doesn’t include what goes out in meat.” He says a little over a decade ago the US was a net importer of pork but now we export more than we buy from other countries. Johnson took part in a “work day” on a Davenport-area farm, then toured a grain terminal in the Quad Cities. Johnson grew up on farms, worked at grain elevators and built feed bins, and served as an aide to senator Chuck Grassley on farm, environment and trade legislation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast record agricultural exports of 62-Billion dollars through September 30, and says Iowa exports more corn, soybeans and pork than any other state.
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