China, the world’s largest importer of soyabeans, has made a trade concession to Washington by approving imports of two new varieties of genetically modified crops developed by US companies.
Approved for import are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soyabean, the Ministry of Agriculture announced on Wednesday. China has tight limits on the domestic cultivation of genetically modified crops, but allows imports to be used in its vast animal feed industry.
Beijing in May promised to speed up the evaluation of eight varieties of GM crops from the US as part of a “100-day plan” to open up trade launched in March by US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
China only approved a single new variety of GM crop for import last year.
“Already this year we have had more progress than last year. Clearly it’s linked to the 100-day plan with the US,” said Even Pay, an agriculture analyst at Beijing-based consultancy China Policy.
China’s demand for soyabeans has skyrocketed in the past decade because of rising meat consumption, which has fuelled the animal feed industry.
The country imported more than 80m tonnes of soyabeans last year, mostly from Brazil and the US. China is the biggest export market for US agriculture products, valued at more than $21bn in 2016.
Beijing has in the past taken a tough line on imports of certain GM products. Chinese authorities rejected a number of US corn shipments in 2013 because they contained a GM corn variety made by Syngenta called Agrisure Viptera, which was not approved in China.
The agriculture ministry also renewed approvals for the import of 14 other kinds of GM crop, including Syngenta’s Duracade corn, a Monsanto sugar beet and three Bayer rapeseed products. The approvals are valid for three years.
The approvals come as state-owned ChemChina nears completion of a $44bn deal to purchase major European seed and pesticide company Syngenta, with Beijing trying to gain greater control of the agrichemical market. Mr Xi in 2014 called for China to “dominate the high points of GMO techniques”.
Beijing does not permit the cultivation of any GM crops except for cotton and papaya, amid fierce suspicion from consumers over perceived health risks. Imported biotech products take up to seven years to gain approval in China, compared with up to three in other major markets.
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