China Approves Swiss Syngenta Biotech Corn (GMO)

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Society and Culture, Technology and Energy

SOURCE:  http://www.wsj.com/articles/chinese-agriculture-ministry-approves-syngenta-corn-1418843285

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China Approves Syngenta Biotech Corn

Approval for Biotech Corn Comes During Meeting of Chinese, U.S. Officials

CHICAGO—China’s Ministry of Agriculture has approved a controversial biotech corn product that has been blamed for the collapse of U.S. corn exports to the big Asian market, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

China began late last year rejecting corn shipments from the U.S. after it found some containing the biotech corn, developed by Swiss seed maker Syngenta AG . Syngenta had been selling the corn to U.S. farmers since 2011, though it was still awaiting approval for the product from Beijing.

Grain-trading firms and farmers have sued Syngenta over what they claim are tens of millions of dollars in lost sales and depressed corn prices after China began turning away vessels loaded with American corn.

But the approval is a turning point in the year-long imbroglio over the genetically engineered corn strain, though the decision isn’t expected to lead to an immediate return to earlier U.S. export levels to China.

Mr. Vilsack said Wednesday that Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang told him of the approval during meetings of U.S. and Chinese officials in Chicago this week. China also approved two biotech soybean varieties developed by Bayer AG and DuPont Co. , Mr. Vilsack said.

A Syngenta spokesman declined to comment until the company receives official documentation from China on the approval. The company said Friday that it expected approval from China “in the near future.” Syngenta submitted the Viptera corn, which produces a protein that kills crop-destroying pests, for Chinese regulatory review in 2010.

China rapidly became a heavy buyer of corn from the U.S. about four years ago, making the collapse of corn trade this year more painful. Analysts said Beijing’s approval isn’t likely to spark major new deals for U.S. corn in the near future, in part because China recently increased price supports that have boosted domestic corn production, creating massive grain stockpiles. The USDA this month projected China will have 78.7 million metric tons of corn stockpiled by the end of August 2015.

“You have to leave open the possibility that China returns to the market, but… we’re talking minimal numbers,” said Ken Morrison, a St. Louis-based trader and publisher of a grain-market newsletter.

Mr. Vilsack also said the two countries had discussed the need for a “high-level strategic dialogue and discussion on innovation in agriculture generally.” He said he doesn’t expect China’s government to made a big deal of its approvals, given Chinese consumers’ sensitivity to foods made from genetically modified crops.

Ethanol producers may see a bigger boost as China’s approval of the strain opens the way for resumed purchases of distillers’ dried grains, a byproduct of ethanol production used for animal feed, according to John Payne, senior market analyst at Daniels Trading, a futures brokerage in Chicago. Chinese livestock producers are among the biggest purchasers of the feed, though deals dropped off this year as China increased scrutiny around biotech traits.

“The bigger win is in the ethanol [industry],” Mr. Payne said.

At least 12 shipments or more of distillers grains, each totaling about 50,000 tons and locked in at preferential prices, have recently been ordered by Chinese trading houses, according to an analyst in a leading industry consultancy, which has close connections with China state agriculture officials.

The Ministry of Agriculture declined to respond to calls for comment.

–Chuin-Wei Yap contributed to this article.

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