Vilsack: China urged to streamline biotech approval process in Beijing talks

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2013 - USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says he and Chinese leaders discussed the streamlining of that country's biotech approval process during trade talks in Beijing that wrapped up today.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman also participated in the 24th U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, an annual bilateral forum of trade and investment issues.

Lets Talk Food

USDA reports China also agreed to further discuss U.S. concerns about the Asian country's requirement to use viable seed in its biotechnology approval process. U.S. stakeholders worry that submission of viable seeds to China could endanger American seed developers' intellectual property rights.

The reported progress on biotechnology issues is significant given China's recent rejection of some U.S. corn shipments, which Beijing says contain an unapproved genetically modified strain of the commodity.

The strain - Syngenta's MIR162 - has languished in China's approval process since early 2010. Since then, Syngenta says, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has issued three rounds of official feedback with questions. The company says it promptly responded to all requests, including the last one in November.

“We believe the Chinese authorities have long since had what they need to move forward with the (MIR162) approval,” Syngenta North America Region Director David Morgan wrote in a Dec. 17 letter to stakeholders obtained by Agri-Pulse.

While USDA was unable to confirm Vilsack discussed the corn shipments with the Chinese, a spokesman said the Secretary did discuss “China's need to better synchronize its biotech review policy with science based standards.”

USDA data indicate U.S. exporters sold net 124,000 metric tons (MT) of corn to China in the week ending Dec. 12. But that number includes a net 180,000 MT in previously reported sales switched to unknown destinations and another 60,000 net MT switched to South Korea. Those data shifts indicate corn bound for China was diverted at port.

In all, USDA data show U.S. corn shipments to China were down 34 percent from the week previous, and 58 percent from two weeks earlier.

USDA says the secretary and Chinese officials also discussed:

  • Beef access. U.S. beef is not currently eligible for export to China, but USDA hopes to restore market access by mid-2014.
  • Washington apples and California citrus. The two parties “reaffirmed” a pathway to reopen the Chinese market to the products.
  • Avian influenza. China banned imports of poultry from Arkansas in June, after a low-pathogenic strain was found in the state. When Secretary Vilsack, “raised lifting bans on poultry…China responded that they were analyzing information provided by USDA,” the department said.

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