We in the United States have become obsessed with many issues regarding food. We are concerned about food justice and accessibility to healthy food, many issues of food labeling, the ability to make choices such as access to raw milk, school lunches, and the complex issues of the Farm Bill. But many of these issues are limited to policies and thinking of a closed system. That is, we think about the U.S. and its laws and boundaries without looking at the rest of the world.
Considering the consumption of food out of season that is part of the table in the United States, we should be thinking globally. That is not just an environmental and sustainability question, but one of policy and political awareness. Our policies about food are co-mingled with our policies about drugs, world view, and immigration, to name just a few policy matters that touch our food supply. One of those policies has to do with the Andean countries.
The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDE) – currently scheduled for renewal on July 31, 2013, is a bilateral trade agreement. It has allowed the importation of products from Ecuador and other Andean countries into the U.S. without tariff. The stated purpose of the act is to ensure that agricultural and other products from the Andean countries can be sold in the U.S. at prices that provide for sufficient profits that the Andean people can eschew the raising of drug producing vegetation. Currently Ecuador is the fifth largest supplier of broccoli in the U.S. It is a major supplier of artichokes. And other products, such as fresh roses, are major imports to the U.S.
It appears that the act has been successful for the U.S. in a number of ways. For example, the growing of drug producing agricultural products is generally not profitable in Ecuador today. About half of the vegetable processing companies in Ecuador are at least partially U.S. owned. Because of the climate in Ecuador, produce is available year round making vegetables, especially broccoli and artichokes, available in the U.S. These vegetables are available at reasonable prices.
Although there are nonagricultural products also imported without tariff under the ATPDE, the major impact of this law is on the tables in the U.S. So it is through an interest in our drug-prevention policy that U.S. law is affecting the tables in the U.S. and the lives of thousands of people in Ecuador. Most of this foreign policy is not discussed on a regular basis by the food press and food policy-makers. It takes a reading of the reports of the Office of the United States Trade Representative to determine the impact of the act.
Failing to renew the waiver of tariff will return Ecuador and the other Andean nations to the default tariff position. Not only will that create an impact in those countries, but it will directly affect the tables in the U.S. It may immediately make broccoli and artichokes more expensive. But we may see increasing prices if farmers abandon table vegetables in favor of drug-producing agriculture, making the table vegetables less plentiful and thus more expensive. It will certainly negatively affect those Americans who have invested in Ecuador. There is still time for Congress to act.
This is just one more example of the pervasiveness of food in every aspect of life. It is also a reminder of how interconnected we are. It tells us how politics affects food in ways that are often not apparent.
It reminds me how complex food policy is. And it reminds me that decisions made to accomplish one thing, here to reduce the drug trade, can still affect our food supply. I like the idea of cheaper vegetables, fewer drugs and no tariff. But regardless of what Congress decides to do, it is a potent reminder of the underlying power of food and the international nature of food policy. Learn more about this and other agricultural policy issues at Farm to Table International in New Orleans, August 4-6, 2013.