China to allow imports of some Monsanto biotech food, cotton imports

BEIJING, China, February 20, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- DowJones: China's Ministry of Agriculture has approved permanent import safety certificates for genetically modified, or GMO, varieties of soybeans, corn and cotton produced by U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) , a western diplomatic source told Dow Jones Newswires Friday.

The ministry's approvals pave the way for uninterrupted imports of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready Soybeans as well as two of its GMO corn varieties and two of its GMO cotton varieties, the source said.

"We understand that as (the ministry) has promised U.S. officials, it has completed the safety assessment...and told Monsanto to pickup the official notice on Monday morning," the source said, without specifying when the actual safety import certificates will be issued or will officially go into effect.

The ministry will also likely post the notification on its official Web site Monday, the source said.

China has yet to approve an additional six GMO corn varieties and an unspecified number of transgenic canola strains from various exporting countries.

The approval marks the removal of a persistent irritant to trade relations with exporting countries such as the U.S. since the agriculture ministry and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, or AQSIQ, issued new GMO agricultural product import regulations in January 2002. Approximately 70% of the U.S. soybean crop consists of GMO varieties.

The rules have been criticized as non-transparent, unpredictable technical barriers to trade that stoked market uncertainty that cost U.S. soybean growers, shippers and traders more than $200 million in the 2001-2002 marketing year.

U.S. trade officials subsequently negotiated an interim agreement that was extended twice in the past two years to allow uninterrupted trade of GMO imports while Chinese authorities conducted safety assessments of the products needed to comply with the new import regimen.

While China has previously approved the import of specific varieties of GMO cotton to help feed the country's booming textile industry, these latest approvals are the first for GMO food products.

The ministry's decision bodes well for the future of GMO food imports to China, the diplomatic source said.

"These final approvals should eliminate any uncertainty about biotechnology as a trade barrier and remove some uncertainty in (GMO agricultural product) trade, " the source said.