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Test harmonization on dry beans?
June 25, 2003

By: Jim Gray; Pesticide Registration Coordinator,
 North Dakota Department of Agriculture

Pesticide harmonization really means looking at agriculture and pesticide regulatory systems from a North American perspective.  Harmonization is an obvious extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was intended to eliminate barriers to trade between North American countries and to facilitate cross-border movement of goods and services.  However, shortly after NAFTA was signed, it was obvious that pesticide regulatory systems presented unique barriers to free trade.

To put all members of the agricultural chemical community on the same playing field across North America, we need to create a system that meets all four of the following criteria:
1. Free trade in pesticide-treated commodities.
2. Free trade in pesticides.
3. Equal access to pesticide uses.
4. Harmonization of pesticide registration requirements and regulatory systems.
Each of these four components is currently being addressed, and each is at a different stage of completion.

Free Trade in Pesticide-Treated Commodities
We want to ensure that farmers will be able to sell their crops to markets in any North American country.  Therefore, we need to eliminate barriers to free trade in pesticide-treated commodities.  The primary regulatory barrier to free trade in agricultural outputs is differences in Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) among North American countries.  MRLs, called "tolerances" in the U.S., are the maximum amount of a pesticide allowed to be found in a food or feed crop, and trade irritants can arise if these limits are not the same from one country to another.  Therefore, efforts to facilitate free trade in pesticide-treated commodities have focused on harmonizing MRLs.

Many of the MRLs among NAFTA counties have been harmonized, and federal regulatory agencies continue to work toward resolving remaining differences.  Commodity and trade associations need to clearly identify and prioritize remaining MRL differences so that we can further eliminate trade barriers in treated commodities.

Free Trade in Pesticides
Along with creating a system of free trade in agricultural outputs, we want to create a system of free trade in agricultural inputs.  However, federal regulations currently prohibit a person from importing and using a pesticide from Canada or Mexico without the consent of the manufacturer, even if we know that the product is identical to a pesticide sold in the U.S.  As a result, pesticide manufacturers have been able to use international borders to segment North American pesticide markets, and farmers see the results every day in the form of pesticide price disparities.

In a recent study, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture compared the prices of 35 common herbicides between North Dakota and Manitoba.  Results indicate that North Dakota farmers would save over $20 million per year if they could purchase their pesticides at Canadian prices.

To eliminate the ability of manufacturers to segment markets, we need to change the federal law. SB 332, commonly called the Pesticide Harmonization Act, would allow states to issue state-specific registrations for Canadian pesticides that are identical or substantially similar to pesticides registered in the U.S.  This bill has been once again introduced by Senator Dorgan, and as expected, it is being staunchly opposed by the pesticide industry.

A second strategy to de-segment North American pesticide markets is through use of North American (NAFTA) pesticide labeling.  EPA and Canada's PMRA recently developed the first-ever joint pesticide label, and we have been assured that major regulatory barriers to developing NAFTA labeling have been resolved.  The problem is that use of NAFTA labeling is currently voluntary, so we will see limited use of them, especially in those situations where pesticide companies see an economic advantage to segment markets.  The solution is to make use of NAFTA labeling involuntary, or to create some benefits to companies that want to use them.

Equal Access to Pesticide Uses
For U.S. farmers and ranchers to fairly compete with their counterparts in Mexico and Canada, they need access to the same pesticides for the same uses.  When a particular use is available in one country but not another, it creates a competitive disadvantage to certain growers.  This is most evident for new and minor crops.

The key to eliminate differences in pesticide uses from one country to another is for growers to identify and prioritize their registration needs for EPA.  EPA has been responsive to these requests, and many pesticide uses registered in recent years are because commodity groups have identified differences in pesticide availability.

Regulatory Harmonization
Pesticide manufacturers view harmonization primarily as a regulatory issue, not a trade issue.  They want the U.S. EPA, Canada's PMRA, and Mexico's CICOPLAFEST to harmonize their registration requirements so that companies can send the same registration data package to all three countries and be granted a registration along similar timelines.  In other words, manufacturers want to play by the same set of rules in all three countries.

EPA and PMRA have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to harmonize their registration requirements.  Both agencies have assured the Department that most data requirements have been harmonized, and that they will continue to resolve remaining differences, regardless of how minor.  In addition, EPA and PMRA have issued many joint registrations, and the agencies routinely use worksharing to split up workload.  Mexico is quickly coming up to speed.

What remains to be harmonized in registration requirements?  That's a good question.  Pesticide manufacturers allege that significant differences still exist, and differences in pesticide prices between the U.S. and other countries result from the higher regulatory burden here.  North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson and Senator Byron Dorgan have repeatedly asked CropLife America, the lobbying organization of the pesticide industry, to meet and identify these remaining differences so that they can be resolved.  Unfortunately, CropLife America has not accepted these invitations, and they cancelled a meeting last June that was intended to focus on regulatory harmonization.

Recent Pulse Crop Proposal
Pulse Canada has recently proposed that the NAFTA Technical Working Group (a panel of regulators from EPA, PMRA, and CICOPLAFEST) use pulse crops as a test case to assess progress towards achieving North American pesticide harmonization.  The intent of this exercise is for pulse growers from all over North America to present the Technical Working Group with a prioritized list that documents: 1) MRLs that are not harmonized, 2) pesticide uses that are not harmonized, and 3) a list of pesticide price disparities to support the need for federal legislation.

Mark Goodwin from Pulse Canada has been meeting with growers of pulse crops in the U.S. and Mexico to see if there is support for this initiative.  In fact, Goodwin met with the Northarvest Board of Directors and the North Dakota Dry Pea and Lentil Association in March of 2003.  To date, chickpea, dry pea, and lentil growers in the U.S. have been supportive of the idea.  I urge Northarvest to seriously consider this proposal.

As people have hopefully gathered, pesticide harmonization is a complex issue.  However, we continue to work toward a system that truly puts American farmers on a level playing field with their counterparts in Mexico and Canada. To reach this vision, we need to continue working in all four component areas of the issue, and input from growers will be more important than ever.


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