Vetter: U.S.-India agreement will help ag with border problems

Featured in: The Hagstrom Report

CSIS and GHI panel

The recent trade facilitation agreement between the United States and India to end their impasse in the World Trade Organization over India’s public stocks of food will help American farmers because it will allow the agreement to improve border procedures to go forward, Darci Vetter, the U.S. chief agricultural trade negotiator said this week.

“It is important to advance the trade facilitation agreement,” Vetter said at an event Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that featured a presentation by the Global Harvest Initiative.

Efficient border procedures are vital for agricultural exports because some products are perishable, Vetter said. The goals of trade facilitation include making border procedures more efficient and faster and improving storage at the borders, she added.

Vetter did not address the U.S. decision to agree not to challenge India’s stockpiling of foods until there is an international agreement on that issue. India had complained that the agreement on trade facilitation reached in Bali last year would interfere with the country’s ability to assure a food supply and help its small farmers. The United States has maintained that stockpiling interferes with markets and trade.

The CSIS-GHI event was titled “Agricultural Productivity, Food Security and Trade with a focus on agricultural productivity in India,” and Vetter said she was glad to speak at a conference focused on issues besides trade.

Vetter said she is a trade negotiator, but “I like being an agricultural collaborator.”

Too often she said, there are separate conversations about agricultural resources and productivity and trade, but those issues “are really intertwined,” she said.

“Trade is essential if we want to reach that overall definition of food security,” she said. “Good trade policy is good food security policy.”

Trade, Vetter said, “moves goods that are in surplus to areas where they are in deficit. That is what we have to do in this era of growing population and we have different capacities for production.”

The first issue of trade concern, she said, is tariffs, adding that it is important “to keep them low and predictable particularly for staple foods that need to move regionally across borders.”

“The other issues are whether border procedures are quick, whether there are international standards for food safety, animal and plant health issues and whether new technologies including biotechnology are accepted,” Vetter said.

Food security “is not just enough providing enough calories but the right calories and increasing farmer income,” she said.

Farmers all over the world need market information, she said, and the nearby market might be on the other side of an international border that is closer to the production area than the country’s capital city.

“Some of the highest tariffs that we see are among and between countries that are neighbors that face challenges but also that produce similar crops and have similar diets. They are producing the staple crops that their neighbors need but can’t get them to market,” Vetter said.

There need to be international standards for food safety and animal and plant health issues because so much food is now moving across borders and small countries can’t keep up with the new products and additives, she said.

“The United States has a hard time keeping up with the risk assessments,” Vetter said. “Imagine if your entire animal and plant health science [team] is five to 10 scientists.”

“These standards are important for these border agents, but they are equally important to the farmer and the business owner, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises that want to enter the global marketplace. It is impossible for these smallholders to meet a different standard in every country,” she said.

“Listening to markets is key,” Vetter said. “Producers need to have access to accurate and real market information in order to make good decisions. Export bans, refusing to let products leave create disincentives for the farmers. Higher subsidized production creates overproduction that perhaps the land and water cannot support.”

Vetter thanked the Global Harvest Initiative for making “trade essential to the discussion” of how to feed the world as the population climbs to an estimated 9.6 billion by 2050.

Vetter also praised Margaret Zeigler, the GHI executive director, for highlighting the importance of agricultural services for small farmers in developing countries.

“Another part of good policy is increasing trade in services,” Vetter said.

GHI is a coalition of Accenture, DuPont, Elanco, John Deere and Monsanto. It also forms partnerships with international organizations and universities.