Market forces should dictate GMOs future

By FW staff

MARKET forces should be left to determine the future destiny of genetically modified crops, not some committee set up by the World Trade Organisation.

Speaking to journalists in London this week, New Zealand agricultural trade envoy Malcom Bailey said as long as consumers were properly informed, the choice on GMOs should be theirs. Leaving it to governments or committees to decide increased the possibility of political trade barriers being raised.

Mr Bailey believed the current Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, set up under the last GATT round, was sufficient to deal with the problem of GMOs.

(This relies on established bodies, such as the UNs Codex Alimentarius or the Paris-based International Organisation of Enzootics, to provide the scientific answers on the safety of a product.)

It might be appropriate to set up a committee under WTO to look at ways of restoring public confidence in the new technologies, but it should not override consumer choice on the issue, he said.

“WTO is about establishing principles. You cant block trade just because there is a bit of negativity in the market.”

With talks getting under way in Seattle in late November, New Zealands top priority was the elimination of export subsidies, followed by improved import access and the reduction of internal farm supports.

“Export subsidies are the number one target because they tend to be the most distorting,” said Mr Bailey. “They depress world prices… and are particularly tough on developing countries.”

As for direct farm payments, he said New Zealand recognised the need for some support in Europe, owing to the different market circumstances. But it should be totally decoupled from production.

He also criticised recent developments in the US, where $7.6bn of emergency aid has just been agreed.

“We are seeing a de facto deficiency payment mentality coming back,” he said. But the ongoing trade spat over Washingtons decision to impose 40% import duties on increased New Zealand lamb sales, was dismissed as a “hiccough”.

Mr Bailey is currently touring the EU to try and persuade farmer leaders of the benefits of free trade as their governments prepare for Seattle.

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