The commercialisation of GM crops is a regulated activity and different countries have different authorisation procedures, i.e. new GM crops do not get simultaneously approved worldwide.
This "asynchronous approval" (AA) is of growing concern for its potential impact on international trade.
Especially if countries operate a "zero tolerance" policy that may result in rejections of imports that contain only traces of such GMOs.
A similar problem of "low-level presence" (LLP) of unapproved GM material in imports arises when developers of new GM crops do not seek approval in export markets, i.e. when there is "isolated foreign approval" (IFA) in their home countries only.
LLP incidents have already caused trade disruption and economic problems, in particular for the EU feed and livestock sector.
To forecast the future evolution of LLP, a global pipeline of new GM crops was established.
While currently there are around 30 commercial GM events cultivated worldwide, by 2015 there could be over 120.
If problems with LLP have occurred in the past, these are likely to intensify. Moreover, GM events can easily be combined ("stacked") by conventional cross-breeding, thus creating more "new" GMOs (in countries where stacked crops are regulated like new GMOs).
Also the issue of IFA is bound to increase with more GM crops being developed by technology providers in Asia for domestic markets.
For actors in the global agri-food chain the main problem of LLP is the economic risk of rejections of shipments at the EU border.
Part of this problem consists of the "destination risk", i.e. the official testing for unauthorised material only in the port of destination.
When compliance with a zero tolerance policy for LLP becomes impossible, exporters may only deal with "preferred buyers" who are known to create little problems.
Otherwise, if the risk of rejection increases, so will the price. This will affect EU businesses that are dependent on cheap agricultural imports.
The report “The global pipeline of new GM crops: implications of asynchronous approval for international trade” by authors: Alexander J. Stein and Emilio Rodríguez-Cerezo, can be downloaded here