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Clinton discusses biotech, global policy at BIO convention

Former Secretary of State, Sen. and first lady Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the BIO 2014 International Convention, and commented on topics ranging from removing some risk in the biotech industry to using genetically modified organisms in food, to the role the United States should play in Iraq and Russia.

She commented on everything, that is, except whether she’s tossing her hat into the 2016 presidential ring.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe preceded Clinton’s discussion with BIO President Jim Greenwood, and expressed their support for the biotech industry. BIO 2014 is being held at the San Diego Convention Center through Thursday.

Greenwood made sure to hit on hot topics such as federal support for the risk-heavy biotech industry.

“This is going to become an increasing challenge for the domestic industry," Clinton said. "Because I think what we’ll see is more and more state capitalism, state-owned businesses, very large guarantees coming out of countries not just in the tax system —which has its own issues — but real subsidization for these kinds of risky enterprises outside of our country if we don’t come up with some sensible solutions that continue to encourage and incentivize risk taking.”

She said the government also needs to take a look at the tax system to ensure it’s not pushing pharmaceutical and biomedical companies outside U.S. borders. Also particularly relevant to the BIO crowd were Clinton’s thoughts on climate change and genetically-modified organisms, two areas ripe for innovation.

Clinton was clear that the “debate” over climate change is over, and needs to move from a conversation surrounding the legitimacy of the science to the next steps for the country and world.

“The United States has to be seen as a leader here at home for us to influence what’s going on globally,” she said.

“It is so critical that the United States be at literally every table, but we won’t have any credibility unless we’re able to say we’re taking some tough steps.”

She said the gap between facts and perception that exists in climate change also permeates the GMO field, and is equally as difficult — and necessary — to change.

“I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record,” Clinton said, adding that the vocabulary needs to transition from the “Frankensteinish” genetically modified, to the more positive and useful-sounding “drought resistant.”

Greenwood then fired off a couple of timely international policy issues pulling in Clinton’s former role as secretary of state.

On ISIL’s takeover of Mosul and the increasing threat in Iraq: “The United States should not be committed to doing very much at all unless we have a clear understanding of what [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki is going to do, and what role Iran is going to play,” Clinton said, backing President Obama’s decision to send over roughly 300 troops to Iraq as advisers. She said she doesn’t think the Sunni population will feel it has a future in Iraq under al-Maliki, creating a tough political environment for any operation against ISIL.

On a nuclear Iran: “There is an opening for an enforceable agreement,” Clinton said. “Having said that, this is really hard,” and complicated by the fact that the alternative would be military action. The initial deadline for reaching an agreement was July 20, though Clinton said that is likely to be extended.

On China: “We want a positive and comprehensive, cooperative relationship. That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, because we do, but it means that we will work very hard to resolve those differences and to avoid confrontation, or conflict for even a worse scenario.”

Clinton said she is worried about potential hotspots in northeast Asia, and advocated for the United States to keep a “cool head” and do all it can to persuade China to be a responsible stakeholder.

On Russia and Putin: Clinton said where former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wanted to diversify Russia’s economy with a technology focus, Putin seems to be interested in re-creating a Russia of the past.

“I think he wants to see a Russia that is defined by its territorial reach,” she said.

“He wants to restore what has been lost. He doesn’t want to build something new that could really take its place in the global economy and the geopolitical universe, he wants what used to be. And that’s what makes him dangerous, because it’s not a particularly achievable goal, and yet I think he’s going to continue to try to maneuver to get as much as he possibly can.”

Last, in a move to avoid the perpetual question about running for president, Greenwood asked Clinton what she’s learned from her past attempts at presidential runs — for high school and college class president. She said learning how to handle criticism was an important lesson, and had some advice for future female leaders.

“You have to just be even better as a woman to be successful — it is a research-proven fact.”

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