WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The Obama administration’s pick for chief agricultural trade negotiator defended himself on Wednesday against charges from environmental groups and others who said he would favor big agribusiness over small farms and organic farmers if confirmed.
Islam “Isi” Siddiqui, a senior farm trade official during the Clinton era, has been a vice president since 2001 at the chemical trade lobby CropLife America. Environmental groups say that job should disqualify him from consideration for the new position. [ID:nN28303971]
“All the allegations ... and attacks which I have seen are directed at the trade association that I worked for for eight years,” Siddiqui said at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
“There is no evidence in my public service of 32 years where I made any disparaging remarks against organic or sustainable development,” he said.
The chief agricultural trade negotiator works in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on issues affecting U.S. farm exports, which were worth more than $115 billion in 2008.
More than 80 groups -- including small-farm, organic, and environmental organizations -- have asked the Senate committee to reject Siddiqui’s appointment because he is too close to businesses that make chemicals and genetically modified crops.
“Siddiqui’s record and statements ... show his clear bias in favor of chemical-intensive and unproven biotechnology practices that imperil both our planet and human health while undermining food security and exacerbating climate change,” the groups said in a letter to the committee.
Siddiqui worked for the California agriculture department and the U.S. Agriculture Department before joining CropLife, which represents BASF BASF.DE, Bayer CropScience (BAYE.BO), Dow AgroSciences DOW.N, du Pont Co DD.N, Monsanto Co (MON.N) and Syngenta SYNN.VX.
He was a registered lobbyist for the group from 2001 until 2003.
Siddiqui has strong support from mainstream agricultural groups, 46 of which signed a letter backing him for the job.
Senator Blanche Lincoln, head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she would vote for Siddiqui’s nomination, and urged other senators to do the same.
Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, also praised Siddiqui’s qualifications for the job.
If confirmed, Siddiqui said he would work on technical issues that have prevented U.S. beef from entering certain markets since late 2003, when the United States found its first case of mad cow disease.
“I have found that scientific evidence can be a powerful tool in breaking down trade barriers,” he told senators.
He also said we would try to engage the European Union to accept more genetically modified crops, and would pursue more access for U.S. farm products through World Trade Organization talks. [ID:nN044397] (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by David Gregorio)