Soybean trade mission

Matt Bainbridge, left, Marc Reiner, Craig Converse, Bob Metz, Tim Ostrem, Colin Nachtigal, Stan Hanson at the Port of Tarragona, the largest agribulk importer in Spain.

Negotiations between trade officials from the U.S. and the United Kingdom have begun in the wake of the of Britain's departure from the European Union, and upper Midwest soybean growers see it as an opportunity for a new market.

Northern Soy Marketing, which represents soybean farmers from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, is speaking up about barriers to soybean exports, namely restrictions on genetically engineered soybeans.

“Northern farmers produced nearly one billion bushels of soybeans in 2018, many of which are exported across the world,” Norther Soy CEO Tom Slunecka said in a news release. “The U.K. can come back to being a large market for us if we can work with them to tackle some of their non-tariff trade barriers.”

The organization sent a letter the Greg Dowd, chief agriculture negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative, outlining those barriers.

“Being part of the World Trade Organization, all barriers need to be science-based, and three of those barriers in the U.K. simply are not,” said Patrick O’Leary, Northern Soy board member and Minnesota soybean farmer. “This is an unprecedented time when we can try to increase our soybean market for genetically-modified, organic and identity-preserved soybeans. These negotiations are critical for farmers across the tri-states and a way to add value to our already high-quality soybeans.”

Three non-tariff trade barriers were put into place against U.S. soybeans, dating back to 1996, including:

- A zero threshold for biotechnology-derived soybeans. Genetically modified soybeans were approved for planting in the U.S. in 1996, but are not approved for import to the EU.

- Mandatory GMO labeling of food ingredients such as soy flour.

- A zero-threshold of GMO in organic feed ingredients such soybean meal.

Naturally occurring bacteria in the soil can cause false positives for GMO, according to Matt Bainbridge, Northern Soy vice chairman and South Dakota soybean farmer. “Simply following science and increasing their mix-in tolerance ... would still ensure a safe, quality supply to the U.K. while still following WTO regulations.”

In addition to World Trade Organization-contravening trade barriers, the U.K. also forces poultry feed manufacturers to produce 100% organic diets or decline to manufacture organic feed, ultimately excluding U.S. organic soybeans from the U.K.

“Our farmers take pride in producing a high-quality, reliable product to meet our customer’s demands,” said Mike Langseth, Northern Soy chairman and North Dakota soybean farmer, adding that they strongly urge trade representatives to push for relaxing barriers - especially on organic soybeans.