If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing.

U.S. and EU trade diplomats must keep this slogan in mind as they prepare to negotiate a sweeping free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

Success would deliver a big boost to economies on both sides of the Atlantic, as phony barriers to the flow of goods, services, and investments come down. Europe is already America’s largest export market, worth about $459 billion last year and supporting about 2.4 million jobs, according to federal statistics.

The good news is that we can do even better: One estimate says that a wise agreement would pump nearly $100 billion to the U.S. economy. It would function like a job-creating stimulus program, without costing taxpayers anything or adding to the national debt.

The bad news is that a few voices are already suggesting that we limit our expectations, especially in agriculture, even before formal talks begin next month. We’re hearing murmurs about how everything would go a lot more smoothly if only we didn’t have to argue about biotechnology.

But argue we must, because genetically modified crops are a fundamental issue for American farmers. This is a fight worth having.

Here in the United States, our science-based regulations approve biotechnology as a safe tool of sustainable agriculture. The technology allows us to grow more crops on less land, helping us feed the world and conserve resources at the same time. The vast majority of our corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically modified, as they are throughout much of the western hemisphere.

In Europe, however, everything is political, including the regulatory process that controls what products farmers can use. Many scientific groups in Europe, such as Britain’s Royal Society, have endorsed GM crops. So have sensible environmentalists such as Mark Lynas. Yet European governments ignore these recommendations, preferring to let anti-biotech activists drive consumer ignorance and dictate policies.

 

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So GM crops have become a major area of transatlantic disagreement—a non-tariff barrier to healthy commerce in food. The coming round of trade talks represents an excellent opportunity to change this by harmonizing rules and reaching a smart resolution.

We should seize this moment. Rather than running away from a difficult conversation, we should confront it and do our best to persuade Europe on the safety and sustainability of biotechnology.

It may not even be as hard as we fear.