Trade gets ugly

In the middle of IPR negotiations, due to a fear and concern of a possible trade blockade with EU, Egypt decided not to pursue the commercialization of Bt potatoes. The issue is partly based on a concern that even if Egypt tried to keep export shipments free from GM potatoes, some would slip through; part of the issue also appears to be a general stance by EU against agricultural biotechnology.

The EU has brought considerable pressure to bear on developing countries, particularly African countries, to adopt EU standards and positions regarding GM foods. Different countries respond to this pressure in different ways. Particularly, in a recent crop failure, Zambia and Zimbabwe nearly turned down US food aid in the form of GM corn, and Malawi rejected this aid, even though this placed large segments of the population in an undernourished status that likely contributed to increased morbidity and mortality.

The EU policy on biotechnology products puts two kinds of pressures on Egypt. First, there was a growing concern that Egypt could lose the EU as an export market. Egyptian potatoes were exported to the EU under a quota: exports up to 109,000 t were duty-free. Exports in excess were subject to duty of 19%, making them non-competitive. The EU made it clear that they did not want to import GM potatoes, and that they did not believe that the Egyptian supply chain was sufficiently structured to supply traditional potatoes separately from the GM potatoes. In essence, the trade concerns have acted as a barrier/deterrent for the commercialization of Bt potatoes and other GM crops and food products in Egypt.

Egypt, as other African countries, succumbed to the pressure. Efforts to commercialize Bt potato in Egypt were suddenly sidetracked and given low priority. Public announcements of the great forthcoming success - or of any kind - have stopped. Coincidentally or not, at about the same time, the EU increased the Egyptian potato export quota to 250,000 t.

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