Sino-U.S. deal may lead to more biotech imports, but Chinese public still mistrustful

Updated 2017-05-25 10:30:31 Global Times
(Photo: Li Hao/GT)

(Photo: Li Hao/GT)

○ A new trade deal between China and U.S. may expedite Chinese imports of U.S. GM seeds

○ Exploring GM technology is on China's national agenda, but has met opposition from the Chinese public

○ China is trying to ease public concerns over GM technology through a publicity drive

China has some of the world's toughest regulations on the import of genetically-modified (GM) products. Its review process for new biotech crops is slow and strict, and over the years, many global biotech companies eager to export their products to China have complained that by setting tough barriers for GM crops, the country is delaying the commercialization of these products and stymieing international trade.

But a recent trade deal between China and the U.S. has been seen by many in the industry as a positive signal that might expedite the import of GM seeds in future. According to the deal, which was among the fruits of Chinese President Xi Jinping's April visit to the U.S., China promised to evaluate eight genetically modified crops from the U.S. by the end of this month.

Taking a look

According to the initial results of the 100-Day Action Plan of the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue released by both countries, China's National Biosafety Committee will hold a meeting by the end of May to conduct science-based evaluations of all eight pending U.S. biotechnology product applications to assess the products' safety.

These eight applications are not new. Many of them have already been held up in China's strict review system for up to five years, including herbicide-tolerant corn, soybean and alfalfa varieties from Monsanto, Reuters reported. Other products awaiting approval include some made by DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta, according to Reuters.

China has been approving fewer and fewer GM crops in recent years. According to the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, China only approved the import of one GM crop in 2016, a soybean trait called Bayer FG72.

This is considerably fewer than the 16 GM crop imports it approved in 2015 and 20 it approved in 2014. Most of the approved crops are from large biotech companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer.

According to Chinese law, all genetically modified crops need to obtain approval to enter the Chinese market. Although China has totally banned the planting of genetically modified staple food crops for human consumption, it allows the import of GM crops for animal feed and industrial use.

That the eight applications are mentioned in the agreement shows that the U.S. has invested great effort in pushing China in this area. "There might be no changes made to the process for evaluating the eight biotechnology products under the agreement, but mentioning them in the agreement underscored the need of the U.S. industry for China to complete the safety assessment process as soon as possible after years on the waiting list," Zhang Xiaoping, China country director at the U.S. Soybean Export Council, said in a press conference last week.

Lu Baorong, a professor of life sciences at Fudan University and member of China's National Biosafety Committee, said the meeting mentioned in the agreement has yet to be held, but denied that U.S. GM crops will receive any favorable treatment.

"The committee meets at least twice a year during which we review all domestic and foreign applications. The reviews are carried out under the guideline that the products have to meet China's safety standards. We will not hold a meeting especially for U.S.-imported GM crops, or open our doors to them for political reasons," he told the Global Times.

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