The Impact of Trade Regulations on Farmers Globally
September 24, 2020
By Sarah Lukie, Managing Director, Regulatory and Multilateral Affairs for Plant Biotechnology, CropLife International
The frequency of scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements has increased exponentially throughout human history. One popular example is human flight — only 66 years separate the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight and the Apollo 11 moon landings. And while crops have evolved through nature and selective breeding for thousands of years, scientific breakthroughs and dramatic increases in crop production resulting from genetic engineering have reshaped agriculture only in the past 40 years.
Because technology can advance so quickly once discoveries are made, it can take years or decades for governments and regulatory entities to write and enact policies approving their use. This has been especially true of advancements in agriculture and food production, which are among the most highly regulated industries on a global level. While these regulatory reviews are critical to ensure the health and safety of the products, unfortunately, if there are inefficiencies in the approvals system for a new technology, it could cause delays that impact all players involved in the food value chain — especially farmers.
Plant scientists are constantly developing new advances in biotechnology, such as insect resistant or drought tolerant crops, to be responsive to changing conditions and needs. But, delays in government approvals can sometimes keep these powerful and life-changing technologies from the communities that need them most. While all new technologies should be thoroughly vetted for safety and effectiveness, inconsistencies from market to market mean a genetically modified (GM) crop can be safely produced in one country for decades but another country may ban its production. For example, GM crops such as corn or soy have been safely produced in the United States for more than 25 years and yet important agricultural countries such as China have prevented their production domestically. While momentum on this topic may be headed in the right direction, the end result of these inconsistencies is farmers in China are put at an economic disadvantage to farmers around the world where GM corn and soy production is allowed.
In 2018, Informa Consulting examined the economic impacts of delays in biotechnology approvals in China. Since China is one of the world’s largest exporters and importers, decisionmakers responsible for what Chinese markets can and cannot buy have a massive influence over how farmers all over the world plan their growing strategy.
The report shows that the lag in China’s approvals of biotech “events” (meaning newly bioengineered products) over the course of several years resulted in major consequences to the agriculture sectors and overall economies of several countries, ranging from missed opportunities for job growth to lost potential economic output. Billions of dollars of farm income and wage growth, and tens of thousands of jobs all throughout the world were left unrealized.
When planting their crops, farmers need to keep these delays and restrictions in mind. For example, a maize farmer whose product is primarily sold to a country with low or nonexistent MRL standards will not be able to use the latest and safest pesticides to protect their crops. This leaves their crops vulnerable to pests and could lead to crop loss, threatening that farmer’s livelihood. A farmer in a country already experiencing the effects of climate change may need genetically modified seeds to protect their harvests against unpredictable weather events. But if their main buyer delays on approving the purchase of such crops, that farmer is forced to plant non-GM seeds and risks losing much of their harvest to floods or droughts.
The data from the aforementioned report demonstrates the benefits that could be realized if China could approve biotech events more predictably and with greater speed. With quick, uniform approvals of these biotech events, farm income could increase by over $9 billion, wage growth could increase by nearly $6.3 billion, and nearly 100,000 jobs could be created. These benefits could have far reaching impacts in lower-income countries across the global south.
These approvals would allow Argentine farmers to adopt plant biotech solutions en masse, allowing them to maintain — and even increase — crop productivity in times of drought. In Brazil, farmers could use specialized seeds to improve productivity, reduce environmental impacts and better manage pests. American farmers could use these biotech solutions to more uniformly adopt sustainable agricultural practices like no-till farming, as well as reduce greenhouse emissions. In turn, these approvals would allow an increased flow of food safe for consumption to enter China, strengthening food security for the nearly 1.4 billion people that live there.
As an advocate for farmers and plant scientists alike, CropLife International continuously encourages discussions and adoptions of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that allow for the unhindered exchange of goods. Exporters, importers, farmers and consumers all stand to benefit from such policies.
When any country — not just China — follows a timely, predictable and science-based regulation system for biotech events, they are supporting farmers’ access to the latest technologies and innovations. These innovations not only improve their communities and livelihoods by protecting crops and increasing yields, but also strengthen food security by stabilizing the flow of foodstuffs to vulnerable populations.
For more information on the study CropLife International and Informa Consulting conducted in 2018, visit the report here.