On trade, we watched U.S.President Obama evolve from trade skeptic to trade enthusiast, at least rhetorically. In January, Terry Wanzek cheered Obama’s State of the Union address, with its promise to double exports in five years and push for free-trade agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama: “His words on the subject were some of the most encouraging of his presidency.” (Giving Voice to a Free Trade Agenda– 29 January 2010)
Then Wanzek suggested a reasonable goal: “If the president is truly committed to expanding America’s trade opportunities, he should first try for a simple accomplishment. How about winning congressional approval for just one of the trade pacts that we’ve already negotiated?”
By the summer, Tim Burrack was impatient for progress: “Now [Obama] has to turn these words into action,” he wrote in July. “Does the president really need a panel of advisors to tell him that the highest priorities on the U.S. trade agenda are approving the free-trade agreements already negotiated with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea? This has been true for more than three years. Yet Congress has let these deals languish. And the Obama administration has done almost nothing to revive them.” (We Need a Grand-Slame Trade Agenda– 30 July 2010)
Carol Keiser was willing to wait until after the mid-term elections. “It’s time to quit the drama and get the deal done,” she urged in November. She was speaking specifically about the trade agreement with South Korea. (Let’s Get It Done!– 4 November 2010)
In December, Dean Kleckner proposed combining all three trade agreements into one vote. “I’d gladly take the agreement with South Korea on its own merits. Not long ago, I feared that we’d never see it enacted. Today, I’m optimistic about its chances. Yet the arguments for and against each trade agreement are almost identical. To the extent that differences exist, they’re just variations on a theme. A case for one agreement is really a case for all three.” (Let’s Kill Three ‘Trade-Birds’ With One Stone– 16 December 2010)
Ultimately, Obama didn’t deliver any trade agreements in 2010, but the supporters of free trade have good reason to hope for big news in 2011.
On technology, there was also welcome news. “The real story about biotech crops is not just good, but actually better than the most positive press releases make it sound,” wrote Bill Horan in April. (The Real Story About Biotech Crops– 23 April 2010)
In August, Australian farmer Jeff Bidstrup, the 2008 recipient of the Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award, made a compelling observation: “Agricultural biotechnology has just passed an important milestone: Farmers around the world have now planted more than a billion hectares of genetically modified crops.” He credited TATT’s “Counting Up” website tool for the calculation. (Multilingual Measurement Milestone– 26 August 2010)
“Biotech crops make sense because they improve production and protect the environment,” wrote Bidstrup. “I’ve seen it on my own farm in GM cotton and many Australian farmers have seen it on theirs in GM canola. We’re looking forward to the day when GM traits come to wheat as well.”
Yet biotechnology also faced new threats from lawsuits and regulations.
“Imagine a judge telling U.S. Olympian Shaun White that he has to surrender his gold medal in the halfpipe because he didn’t practice his amazing 1260 Double McTwist enough times before unleashing it in Vancouver,” wrote Reg Clause in February. “That’s roughly what has happened to farmers who plant alfalfa.” (Sensible Regulations Required– 26 February 2010)
Four months later, Clause followed up with a report on a significant legal victory: “In the Supreme Court’s first-ever ruling on genetically modified crops, the justices issued a resounding decision in favor of biotechnology.” (Judging the Facts About Biotechnology– 25 June 2010)
Yet lawsuits remained potent adversaries. “The risk is that activist groups will hurl so much litigation at minor crops such as sugar beets that the scientists and entrepreneurs who create and market new agricultural products will begin to fear that the costs outweigh the benefits,” wrote John Rigolizzo Jr. in September. “Research and development will cease. Farmers and consumers will pay a steep price. We can’t let that happen—not if we care about the fate of family farms, the cost of food, and the American tradition of innovation.” (Litigating in Favor of Weeds– 30 September 2010)
In October, Ted Sheely warned about the dangers of over-regulation. “I support sensible regulations. It’s the insensible ones that drive me batty. The problem is that the EPA often refuses to exercise common sense. Its one-size-fits-all approach is bad for everyone. The only people it helps are the regulators who seem to think that their job is to produce a bumper crop in onerous new rules, without a care for whether rural America produces the food that our country needs.” (Strangulation By Regulation– 7 October 2010)
In a popular column on the game FarmVille, John Reifsteck turned to a basic truth: “Food doesn’t just come from the grocery store. It comes from the dedication of men and women around the world who work the land.” (FarmVille– 30 December 2009)
It’s something policymakers should bear in mind when they think about trade and technology, no matter what the year.
Mary Boote serves as Executive Director for Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org