It’s been said that if the first genetically modified food product (GMO) explored in the European Union had been a banana with extra nutrition for developing countries, the entire perspective on GMOs would be different.
Instead, crops with insecticide and herbicide properties were discussed. Because of concerns about how these plants might affect the community and local ecosystem, they never caught on in the EU, regardless of their ability to increase crop yields (and probably profitability). Why alter agricultural production methods simply to cater to the wishes of foreign Big Businesses many Europeans wondered, especially when the long-term effects of GMOs are so unknown? In contrast, the majority of corn and soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified and few think twice or worry about their potential affects.
Last week, students in the Business Law and Ethics in the European Union class met with a worldwide food production company and representatives from the European Commission in Belgium, and in Germany met with legal professionals from the German Institution of Arbitration. The underlying message from each of these meetings was no matter what, when it comes to international business, you should aim for win-win.
But win-win isn’t easy when facing cultural, legal and ethical differences, even if the thing in question is as simple as a granola bar. When our St. Thomas team first traveled to the EU a week ago, many of us were convinced that we would be able to secure a “contract” to import basic granola bars containing GMOs into Germany. The contract isn’t actually real, but rather a class exercise in international negotiation with our student counterparts at the Fachhochschule Trier, a university in Western Germany. However, within two days we realized that would be a mistake. There are too many barriers to entry, and culturally the market is adverse to the food.
Instead, we’ve been learning to compromise together on everything from the recipe to who takes on which risks during shipping and importation. It takes time, but with two sides eager to develop a partnership, win-win doesn’t seem too far out of reach, even if it’s meant a few late nights studying international tax code, contract formation and just building rapport with our new German friends.