BEIJING (Reuters) – China approved five genetically modified (GM) crops for import on Tuesday, the first in about 18 months, a move that could boost future imports and ease pressure from the United States to open its markets to more farm goods.
The United States is the world’s biggest producer of GM crops while China is the top importer of GM soybeans and canola.
U.S. farmers and global seed companies have long complained about Beijing’s slow and unpredictable process of approving GM crops for import, another component to the trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
The approvals, announced on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, were granted while a U.S. trade delegation is meeting with its counterparts in the Chinese capital this week.
Two of the newly approved products – BASF’s RF3 canola and Bayer-owned (BAYGn.DE) Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant MON 88302 canola – had been waiting six years for permission.
“We are happy to see the regulatory approval of our seed traits progressing in China,” said an emailed comment from Corteva Agriscience in China, the agriculture unit of DowDuPont.
Five other products known to be seeking approval were not approved, including two GM alfalfa products developed by Monsanto and two DowDuPont soybean traits.
Chinese officials met their U.S. counterparts in Beijing on Monday for the first face-to-face talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global markets.
China had not approved any GMO products for import since July 2017, when it cleared two products following high-level talks with Washington. It also approved two products in June 2017.
China’s scientific advisory board on genetically modified crops met in June but did not approve any products.
“China’s approval of the new GMO products is paving the way for China to import large volumes of U.S. soybeans in the future. It is a positive signal,” said Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Ltd.
The truce in the Sino-U.S. trade war prompted a resumption of U.S. soybean purchases. Buying slumped after China imposed a 25 percent import duty on U.S. shipments of oilseed on July 6 in response to U.S. tariffs.
China does not allow the planting of genetically modified food crops, but imports of GM crops such as soybeans and corn for animal feed are fine.
China, the world’s biggest soybean consumer, has purchased only about 5 million tonnes of the 2018 U.S. soy harvest so far, a fraction of its typical purchases.
The U.S. has demanded that China change its GM crop import application process to make it more transparent, timely and based on scientific methods.
The latest approvals should not be taken as a sign that China is conceding to those demands, said a China-based industry source who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“It’s another piece of evidence that China’s approval process is not entirely scientific but political,” said the source, who believed the approvals were timed for the trade visit.
The ministry also announced on Tuesday the extension of import approval for 26 other GM crops by a further three years.
Reporting by Dominique Patton; additional reporting by Hallie Gu; editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger
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