China Greenlights Imports of Two New GMO Products -- Update

By Brian Spegele and in Beijing Jacob Bunge in Chicago Features Dow Jones Newswires

China approved imports of two new varieties of genetically modified crops, clearing the way for U.S. agricultural companies to market new biotech seeds to farmers.

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The decision announced Wednesday affects genetically engineered corn and soybean varieties developed by Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. It comes after Beijing agreed to speed reviews of biotechnology applications as part of a trade deal with the Trump administration last month.

For the U.S. farm sector, the move marks a step toward clearing a backlog of biotech seeds that have awaited approval from China, in some cases for years. Because China imports more soybeans than any other country and ranks as a major buyer of corn and other crops, seed companies typically wait to widely release new genetically engineered seeds until China says it will permit those crops to be imported.

Seed companies have long complained that China's regulatory approval process is slow-moving and opaque, leaving farmers in North and South America without access to high-tech seeds and crop sprays that companies and farm groups say can help them battle hard-to-kill weeds and fend off destructive pests.

The agricultural industry hailed the May trade deal announced between the U.S. and China, under which China committed to rule within 100 days on eight biotech crops, including four developed by Monsanto, two from Dow, one from DuPont Co. and one from Syngenta AG.

"We're very encouraged and glad to see the progress being made," said Joe Vertin, a senior seed official with Dow.

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Dow continues to await Chinese approval for its similarly engineered Enlist soybeans. China's National Biosafety Committee has asked Dow for more information related to those seeds, which Dow is addressing, Mr. Vertin said. U.S. agriculture-industry officials anticipate the Chinese committee to meet again soon to rule on other seeds that have yet to be approved.

A Monsanto spokeswoman said the company welcomed Wednesday's approval of its Vistive Gold soybean, which Monsanto says produces more healthful vegetable oil, but hopes China will address its other seeds in the coming weeks.

In addition to the two new seed approvals, 14 other genetically modified crop varieties were renewed for importing into China.

China's decision to allow new imports of genetically modified crops comes as the government struggles to balance a desire to boost farms' productivity with a deep mistrust of such crops by its citizens.

The new approvals only apply to importing of grains into China, and not the planting of genetically modified seeds themselves. While China currently prohibits planting of genetically modified staples, western industry executives say they are hopeful that China will loosen those restrictions over time.

There is a general scientific consensus in the U.S. that GMO crops are safe. But in China, doubts remain. While the government has said it believes genetically modified crops are safe in principle, it has been cautious about approving new varieties for imports, fearing a public backlash.

Unlike in the U.S., China doesn't permit planting of genetically modified seeds for staple grains such as corn and soybeans. Loosening those restrictions is one measure that would help boost yields at Chinese farms, say industry executives, a huge goal for China's government as it strives to feed its growing middle class.

State-owned China National Chemical Corp.'s recent deal to buy Switzerland's Syngenta -- a major developer of genetically modified seeds -- brought such issues to the forefront of a public dialogue over genetically altered crops in China. Many foreign executives hope such a deal by a major Chinese state-owned enterprise could help open the market for more genetically modified crops over time.

DuPont said that while it has yet to receive approval for an insect-control trait for corn it is seeking in China, it was "encouraged by the fast progress" of China's government in the latest approvals, and looked forward to the approval of additional products.

China and the U.S. moved ahead this week with another aspect of the trade agreement, outlining rules for U.S. meatpackers to ship beef into China. The step is a precursor to China reopening its estimated $2.6 billion beef market to U.S. producers after nearly 14 years.

Yang Jie contributed to this article.

Write to Brian Spegele at brian.spegele@wsj.com and Jacob Bunge at jacob.bunge@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 14, 2017 21:17 ET (01:17 GMT)