The industrial agriculture complex has been doing back flips for the last few weeks, first because of the ascendance of Blanche Lincoln (ConservaDem-AR) to the high throne of the Senate Agriculture Committee, where she promises to pinch climate legislation (or at the very least shove it aside until next year) and push a southern Big Ag agenda in the Senate for rice and cotton interests. Now, the White House has announced Islam A. Siddiqui, current Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (you will remember the organization as the one that sent the First Lady a letter admonishing her for not using pesticides on the White House garden) as nominee for Chief Agricultural Negotiator, who works through the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to promote our crops and ag products abroad.
Why does it matter if the Vice President from the trade association representing pesticides and other agricultural chemicals takes over the Office of Agricultural Affairs at the USTR? Well, because that office, according to the USTR website “has overall responsibility for negotiations and policy coordination regarding agriculture.” That means he would oversee the office dedicated to:
Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO) Development Agenda (Doha) negotiations on agriculture, operation of the WTO Committees on Agriculture and on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures, agricultural regulatory issues (e.g., biotechnology, cloning, BSE, nanotechnology, other bilateral SPS issues, and customs issues affecting agriculture), monitoring and enforcement of existing WTO and FTA commitments for agriculture (including SPS issues), and WTO accession negotiations on agriculture market access, domestic supports and export competition, and SPS matters.
The Chief Agricultural Negotiator is essentially a ‘spokesperson’ for American agriculture (perhaps the ‘bad cop’ to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s ‘good cop’) who is in charge of selling our agricultural products abroad — products of a synthetic agriculture that is dependent on too many oil inputs, too much water and a stable climate to persist as the norm into the future. Here is an official job description for the Chief Agricultural Negotiator from the website Progressive Government:
The Chief Agriculture Negotiator for the United States conducts critical trade negotiations and enforces trade agreements that relate to U.S. agricultural products and services. Also works to expand the access for America’s farmers and agricultural producers to overseas markets and is responsible for directing all U.S. agriculture trade negotiations anywhere in the world. This includes multilaterally in the World Trade Organization (WTO), regionally in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and bilaterally with various countries and groups of countries such as Australia, Central America, Chile, Morocco, and the South African Customs Union. The ambassador also resolves agricultural trade disputes and enforces trade agreements, including issues related to new technologies, subsidies, and tariff and non-tariff barriers and meets regularly with domestic agricultural industry groups to assure their interests are represented in trade. He or she also coordinates closely with U.S. government regulatory agencies to assure that rules and policies in international trade are based on sound science.
What might a former employee of CropLife think is sound science? And what might his agenda be for expanding our markets abroad? I’m sure Siddiqui is already a regular at agricultural industry meetings, and will be ready and willing to say just what they’d like to hear. (Before CropLife, Siddiqui also served in the Clinton administration under former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, the Ag Secretary best known for taking part in the sign-off of GM seeds as ‘substantially equivalent’ to other seeds, thus an argument for why they should not be labeled.)