by Robert Schubert
March 5, 2004
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Corporate agribusiness and their closely aligned U.S. commodity groups supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement because, according to recent public statements, it will lock in markets for U.S. corn that agribusiness processes and exports. Perhaps those commodity and trade groups should devote more attention to a prime cash-paying market -- the European Union -- that's been all but lost because of the insistence of some of those very same commodity groups, along with the U.S. government and biotechnology companies, that blindly insist that the United States push genetically engineered commodity crops, including corn, on to world processors and consumers whether they want them or not.
In the 1994-95 marketing year, U.S. farmers and agribusiness supplied 3.15 million of the 3.83 million metric tons of corn that were imported into the European Union. That amounted to 82 percent of the imports, according to the latest USDA statistics analyzed and interpreted by Dan McGuire, CEO of the American Corn Growers Foundation. That was, of course, prior to the introduction and planting of GMO corn varieties here in the United States. (See link to his spreadsheet below.)
In large part because of biotechnology, the share of U.S. corn, as part of total European corn imports, dropped to ZERO out of 4.5 million metric tons of corn estimated to be imported into the EU this year. That, of course equals ZERO percent. Without the GMO factor, McGuire estimated that in the 2003-2004 marketing year, U.S. corn would account for some 3.7 million out of that 4.5 million metric tons, or right in step with the estimated 83 percent of world corn trade that USDA economists projected the U.S. would have by now when they did their baseline projections in February 1997. That followed passage of the infamous "Freedom to Farm" 1996 farm law. Given the total cumulative quantity of corn that the EU has imported since the 1997-1998 marketing year, the data show that the U.S. has forgone from 500 to 700 million bushels of corn exports to that market because of transgenic crops. The negative trade relationships that results from U.S. officials telling the world what to eat certainly hasn't helped keep U.S. customers either. With the 2003 drought and reduced grain production around the world, corn ending stocks are seriously reduced and corn prices have been averaging over $2.50 per bushels in the country. However, had GMOs not caused the loss of the EU corn market over the past seven years and built up price-tempering corn inventory here in the U.S., farmers could be getting over $3.50 per bushel for their corn this year given historic price-to-ending-corn-stock relationships. That lost $1 per bushel, because of the GMO issue, would have added $10 billion to the value of the 2003 U.S. corn crop at the grower-farm level, and could have been a welcome economic infusion for farmers and rural America.
That should give all the promote-biotech-at-any-cost commodity groups something to chew on at their corporate agribusiness-sponsored Commodity Classic this week in Las Vegas.