WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2015 - Agriculture in general and biotechnology in particular will be high on the agenda in meetings this week between U.S. and China officials, starting with an all-day session Thursday called the Strategic Agriculture Innovation Dialogue (SAID). The SAID discussion precedes a meeting between President Obama and President Xi Jinping on Friday.
Farm and biotech industry groups have been urging the White House to press Chinese officials to accelerate import approvals for genetically engineered crop traits. Seven such traits are awaiting final approval.
The SAID meeting, which isn’t open to the press or public, is supposed to focus on the big picture in technology, finance and innovation and will include discussion of the potential benefits of Big Data as well as biotechnology. But U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who will be one of the SAID speakers, said Tuesday that the meeting will also get into ways to improve agriculture trade, including by getting China to act on the biotech applications “that have been in the pipeline for too long.”
Farm groups, biotech companies and their allies in Congress have sent a series of letters to the White House urging the administration to use Xi’s visit to accelerate the approvals. In addition to the seven biotech products awaiting final import approval in China, others need the go-ahead to start field trials. Monsanto has four products in the final stage, three of them soybeans and one corn. DuPont Pioneer has two awaiting final approval, canola and corn.
Industry representatives aren’t expecting China to move the approvals while Xi is here but they do look for action in coming weeks.
Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, will be a featured speaker at the meeting, and a number of farm groups and other major companies will be represented, including Deere, ADM, Cargill and J.R. Simplot. Notably, the Chinese government representatives will include officials from trade and economic ministries as well as agriculture.
A Monsanto spokeswoman said Fraley will focus on the “important role ag innovation plays in global economic growth, food security and resource management.”
Matt O’Mara of the Biotechnology Industry Organization says the SAID meeting will be tightly scripted. “It will be more focused on policies that are needed to encourage innovation … It’s not intended to be a forum where they are going to be pounding the table.”
The SAID meeting is the first of its kind and grew out of a meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade last year. The results of the meeting will be reported to the JCCT.
The administration will be pushing China more broadly to open up its market further and to implement policy reforms needed to improve trade. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, Froman said that China is at an “inflection point.”
“Weak intellectual property standards and persistent, or even intensified, information controls have devalued investment in science and technology,” while “over-investment in property and heavy industry has created high levels of debt, crippling over-capacity and market volatility,” he said.
So far, China hasn’t fulfilled its promises of policy reforms, he said. “Requiring the transfer of technology, intellectual property, or user data as a … condition of doing business in China is not consistent with these objectives. Implementing an investment scheme that focuses not only on traditional national security interests, but on economic security concerns as well, is not consistent with these objectives. Applying anti-monopoly laws against foreign investors in a manner that at times appears discriminatory and overly broad is not consistent, either. “
On another trade-related subject, Froman noted that negotiators have been working on settling differences with Japan over automobiles ahead of another ministerial meeting in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but it’s not clear how close they are to a deal. Froman said negotiators are making “steady progress, and we’re going to continue to monitor that work so we can bring this to a close as soon as possible.”
But Froman stopped short of saying he was confident the deal would be done in time to get through Congress next year. “In my line of work you always have to be optimistic,” he said. “Our focus is on completing the agreement as soon as possible consistent with the high standards we’ve set out for ourselves.”
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