Move to expand bilateral trade ties, meet domestic demand
China has granted more access for the U.S.-developed genetically modified (GM) crops into the domestic market, a move to carry out the commitment to expand agricultural trade with the U.S. and also to meet domestic demand, experts noted.
A month after the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) approved the imports of 16 kinds of GM products including soybean and maize developed by U.S. agriculture companies, the authorities gave a go-ahead to two more types of products on July 16, according to the MOA's website. Those products are developed by major U.S. agrochemical and agriculture biotechnology companies including Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences LLC and German company Bayer CropScience.
The most recently approved products included the one developed by Swiss biotechnology company Syngenta AG, which was purchased by State-owned China National Chemical Corp in June.
"Imports of more U.S. agricultural products will help narrow China's trade surplus with the U.S., which is also a part of the U.S.-China Economic Cooperation 100-Day Plan," Li Guoxiang, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Domestic supply of some products such as soybean and maize in China can meet the market demand for now, and an increase in the imports of such products is likely to put pressure on domestic supply in the short run and trigger a supply glut, Li noted.
"For example, the output of domestically grown soybean has not reached its maximum capacity of 20 million tons, and imported agricultural products are usually cheaper than domestic ones," he said.
China produces around 13 million tons of soybean, all of which go to the food sector to make soymilk, tofu and other products, Reuters reported in June. In 2016, U.S. soybean exports totaled billion, with .2 billion represented by Chinese demand, U.S.-based non-governmental organization Farm Bureau said in a report published in April.
However, some experts hold the view that the output of agricultural products could not meet the growing demand for products including meat, eggs, poultry and milk as well as for fodder. "Besides, the U.S. has developed advanced farming systems and new technologies to help their products become more competitive in price," Xi Wang, a doctor of plant molecule biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday. The genetically modified organism (GMO) technology lowers the cost and increases productivity, which is expected to become a major advanced breeding technology, Xi noted.
Still, there are growing concerns about the safety of GM products not only in China but also in the EU and the U.S.
The EU applies some of the most rigorous standards in the world when assessing the safety of plants containing multiple genetic modifications, according to the website of the European Food Safety Authority. And the EU Parliament voted to oppose new GMO authorizations in October 2016, which represented the wish for a GMO-free agriculture for EU citizens, said local organic food and farming advocate IFOAM EU.
Americans also hold different views toward the GM products, CBS News reported in December 2016, citing a latest survey by the Pew Research Center. Nearly four out of 10 respondents said GM foods are worse for health than other foods, while almost half said there is no difference.
In China, GM food safety has been a subject of broad public debate since 2013, when GM food opponent and former China Central Television host Cui Yongyuan had an online spat with Fang Zhouzi, a science writer and advocate of GM food. Many citizens sided with Cui, questioning the safety of GM foods.
Also in last December, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, a major agricultural production base, passed regulation to ban GM crops. It was the first regulation of this kind in China. "We hold a cautious attitude toward the GM products," Li said, noting that the imports of GM products have to follow strict administrative steps and the use of the GMO technology in domestic agricultural production is prohibited.