May 24, 2013 10:14AM

Genetically Modified Foods and the Limits of Trade Agreements

Last week‐​end, the Washington Post had a good article about how difficult it will be for the upcoming U.S.-European Union trade talks to deal with the issue of genetically modified foods. In the Huffington Post, I have a short piece in which I explain why, in my view, trade talks can’t solve this issue.

Here’s my conclusion: 

However, asking trade negotiations to solve the issue in the next year and a half–the projected time‐​frame for the talks–may doom the whole process of US-EU trade negotiations. Let’s not risk killing a possible free trade deal on a quixotic quest to improve the EU regulatory process. Instead, put the EU arguments to the test: If protectionism is not the reason for the reluctance to approve genetically modified foods, the EU should have no objection to lowering tariffs and removing quotas for U.S. food products that are not genetically modified. Let’s push the EU on that issue instead, moving us towards free trade in the most simple and direct way we can.

My point here is that in order for international trade negotiations to work, we have to focus on what is actually achievable. Tariffs, quotas, and other explicit forms of discrimination are the core of protectionism, and there are plenty of those left. I’m happy to focus on those issues for now. It’s hard enough convincing the U.S. government not to regulate too much; using trade talks to rein in other governments’ regulation is asking a lot.