Commentary: EU too influential over Central America ag

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The European Union is tightening its business connections with Central American countries, and that presumably means agricultural exports to Europe is part of that tightening. I’m afraid this means European countries are achieving more power over how crops are grown by Central American producers.

At the end of June, as part of the 39th Central American Integration System Summit (SICA), hosted by Honduras, and reported by my contacts within the country, the foreign ministers of Central America and the European Union signed an “Association Agreement” that had been in the works since 2006.

The summit and signing event included involvement by the FIDE Investment and Exports organization of Honduras, my hosts to the country in 2008. Although FIDE sees this as opening opportunities for Honduras and Central American countries to do business in Europe, I question how much this agreement will limit our neighbors to the south in accepting additional biotech agricultural production by growers—large and small.

When I visited Honduras as a guest of FIDE and when I returned in 2010 as a tourist, I was impressed with the country’s willingness to expand its biotech crop production because of the huge number of U.S. trained agronomists working within the government, university research and private sector. There was a major focus on export of agricultural production to the U.S., but there also were areas of agricultural business focused on providing Europe and Asia with agricultural products.

I remember the focus of tilapia fish going to Europe as much or more than the U.S., and I remember specific varieties of vegetables being grown specifically to ship to Asia.

“This agreement marks an important step forward in the relationship between the two regions (Central America and Europe). Once ratified, this agreement will open up markets on both sides, help establish a stable business and investment environment, increase the benefits for citizens and will foster sustainable development. In 2010, EU was Central America’s second trade partner after the U.S. (and intraregional trade), representing almost 9.4 percent of the trade flows,” FIDE reported.

The Trade Commissioner of the EU, Karel de Gucht, reportedly said, “In the current economic situation, it is essential that the European companies can count on a stable and predictable business and investment climate.”

My wish is that the Central American countries could have counted on more investment from the U.S., especially in agriculture, so that the EU becomes isolated instead of having more influence on the type of agricultural production of Central America.

There probably is the ability for biotech and non-biotech production to co-exist, but it has to be much harder in developing countries without the sophistication for identity preservation. And there also is the constant backdrop of activist environmentalists claiming contamination of organic and conventional ag production by those growing biotech crops. Too many producers could opt for the easiest way out by not growing biotech crops at all.

I prefer that Europe be squeezed into being unable to have enough food without fully accepting biotech production instead of acquiring more influence over developing countries.

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