Report: Asynchronous biotech approvals impede trade

A recent report says disparities in regulations between countries that import and export biotech crops is a “significant and growing impediment to trade.”

Prasit Rodphan |

A recent report says disparities in regulations between countries that import and export biotech crops is a “significant and growing impediment to trade.”

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) in Ames, Iowa, conducted a literature review and report that looks at problems caused by asynchronous approvals for biotech crops. The review’s authors say the trade problems they cite are of particular concern in the European Union and China.

“Many factors influence the approval process — including differences in institutional arrangements, regulatory procedures, administrative capacity, and attitudes toward biotech crops. Therefore, the time required to review new biotech events varies significantly from one country to another,” a CAST press release says. “As long as the current situation persists, agricultural biotechnology will be prevented from delivering the full range of promised benefits of improved standard of living and food security.”

Problems between trade partners

Biotech crops are strictly regulated around the world, and regulatory approaches differ from one country to another. The time required to review and approve biotech crops varies significantly too, and regulatory review times for new biotech have increased in key countries. CAST says biotech approvals have become more asynchronous in recent years, leading to a situation where new biotech crops are approved in one country but not authorized for use in others.

CAST says this is a problem for three main reasons:

  • Most countries have zero tolerance for unapproved biotech.
  • Asynchrony in regulatory approvals between importing and exporting countries puts large volumes of trade worth billions of dollars at risk.
  • Under zero tolerance, low-level presence (LLP) incidents can lead to trade disruption and, ultimately, trade distortions.

LLP incidents can cause shippers to suffer economic losses, in some cases the value of their entire shipment.

In each of the three studies of LLP incidents the report examined, increased prices on importing countries resulted in decreased demand, diminished trade, and social welfare losses.

Alternative policy solutions have been proposed, including the establishment of a nonzero tolerance that would allow low levels of biotech in the supply chain, and countries’ recognition of the safety assessments and regulatory approvals of trading partners.

CAST says some potentially profitable biotech innovations may not get the attention they deserve because of regulatory delays. Regulatory also may disrupt the development of crops with multiple biotech traits.

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