China commits to 'further improve' biotech approval process

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2015 - China has agreed to improve an agricultural biotechnology approval process that U.S. industry officials say has left a number of new products in limbo. 

The commitment, outlined in a fact sheet issued by the White House on Friday, didn't include any details of what China would do. U.S. industry officials are looking for China to accelerate final import approvals for seven biotech traits and to speed up consideration of other genetically engineered crops in the pipeline.

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Officials from the Agriculture Department and the Chinese agriculture ministry discussed the issue ahead of a meeting Thursday called the Strategic Agriculture Innovation Dialogue, sources said. The SAID meeting, in turn, preceded a meeting Friday between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

The White House fact sheet said the two countries “committed to further improve” the approval process. 

“Both sides reaffirmed the importance of implementing timely, transparent, predictable, and science-based approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, which are based on international standards,” the fact sheet said. 

Matt O'Mara, with the Biotechnology Industry Organization, praised the administration's work in winning the commitment, which he called “an important first step." He cautioned that streamlining China's approval process is still likely to be "a long-term process.”

USDA officials declined comment on the fact sheet. Earlier Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he had been talking to Chinese officials on a range of issues over the past two days. 

“I've expressed both publicly and privately for the need for China to create a science-based, rules-based, consistent regulatory system that's better coordinated and synchronized with our system and the system that is followed by other countries that are trading in and raising genetically modified crops,” Vilsack said. 

O'Mara, who attended the SAID meeting, the first of its kind, said it “really helped to show that there is a lot of interest in strengthening the cooperation between the two countries, and we'll continue to work on it.”

The SAID meeting, which was not open to the press, included  presentations by Chinese and U.S. industry officials on issues including biotechnology, Big Data and finance. The discussion grew out of a meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade last year. The results of the meeting are be reported to the JCCT.

In a joint press conference with Obama, Xi didn't address the biotech issue but listed agriculture as one area where the countries would “expand mutually beneficial cooperation.”

Ahead of Xi's visit, farm groups, biotech companies, and more than 40 senators and more than 100 House members had written the White House, urging Obama to raise the issue with Xi. Twelve Democrats, including the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, signed the Senate letter. 

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