Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is in the Czech Republic as part of a delegation of Congressmen talking international trade and foreign policy with leaders in several European nations this week. In a phone interview with Radio Iowa from Prague, Grassley says he’s enthused about the reception he’s had so far and how it may spell new opportunities for grain farmers and livestock producers in Iowa.
"We’re having meetings in Morocco and Turkey thus far, Czech Republic today and tomorrow, and then eventually Spain," Grassley says,"I’m focusing on, first, a restrictive approach of the European Union in approving biotech events and mandating the labeling and traceability of biotech food and feed in the European Union." He says the breakdown in the E-U’s approval process for biotech products has blocked most exports of U.S. corn.
Grassley, a Republican, says that action goes against rules set up by the World Trade Organization. He says, "The Czech Republic is one of the more pragmatic countries in the European Union on this issue, so the U.S. needs Spain and the Czech Republic to be more engaged in trying to influence the European Union in biotechnology and agriculture." Many Iowa farmers have embraced biotech products in the corn industry, in particular, as the plants are resistant to many afflictions — ranging from insects to diseases to severe weather, including flooding and drought.
Still, many European leaders have resisted G-M-O, or genetically-modified organisms, in their food. Grassley says the anti-G-M-O sentiment extends well beyond corn. He says: "The restrictive approach of the European Union in certifying U.S. pork plants to export pork to the European Union, as well as requiring unnecessary and expensive testing of U.S. pork products. Right now, only three U.S. pork plants are approved to ship pork to the European Union."
Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee which is responsible for international trade legislation and oversight of U.S. trade policies. He says two nations on this trade trip have been particularly receptive to American agricultural products, and Grassley’s hoping they’ll spread that open-minded attitude to their colleagues in the E-U.
He says: "As members of the European Union, both Spain and the Czech Republic have input into the European Union decision regarding pork. My message for officials in these two countries is that action is needed to change the European Union pork policies that harm U.S. producers." Grassley says he’s also seeing a very positive agricultural policy reversal in Turkey, a nation he visited on the first leg of this tour.
He says, "Turkey finally reopened its markets to U.S. breeding cattle last summer after a four-year ban. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the U.S. could export ten-thousand head of breeding cattle to Turkey this year." Still, he says Turkey’s beef import policy could not be more restrictive and very likely violates World Trade Organization standards. "The future of rural America is linked to international trade," Grassley says, adding: "In agriculture alone, a third of U.S. acres are planted for export. Ag exports make up roughly one-fourth of U.S. farm cash receipts.
All along the food chain — from farmers, to suppliers, manufacturers and shippers — international trade boosts prosperity for American agriculture." Grassley is due back in the U.S. on Saturday.