Genetically modified crops still a sticking point in US-China trade talks: Sources

WASHINGTON • Beijing's lengthy approval process for genetically modified (GM) crops remains a sticking point in talks to end the trade war between China and the United States, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks.

Beijing has taken years to approve new strains of GM crops, and US companies and farmers have complained that this stalls trade by restricting the sales of new products from companies such as DowDuPont Inc, Bayer AG and Syngenta AG.

The issue is one of a host of US complaints that the Trump administration is demanding China address if it wants to end the trade dispute that has cost both countries billions of dollars and slowed the global economy. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the two sides were getting very close to a deal that could be announced in about four weeks, though there were still differences to be bridged.

GM crops and the approval process are still a "big issue" in the discussions, said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The issue has been a source of tension between the two countries for years. China is the biggest buyer of US soya beans, the bulk of which are genetically modified. If it does not approve new strains, then farmers in the US cannot plant them because China may reject shipments that include them. Seed companies cannot fully commercialise sales of new strains without those approvals.

The two sides had appeared to make some progress on the issue in January, when China approved a handful of GM crops for import. They were the first in about 18 months. The move did not address the core US concerns over delays to the process.

A spokesman for the Office of the US Trade Representative, who is leading the Washington team in the discussions, did not respond immediately to a request for confirmation or comment. China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not immediately respond to faxed questions yesterday, which was a public holiday in China.

 
 
 

It is unclear what differences on the issue remain. The US wants China to accelerate its approval process and make it more similar to Washington's.

Beijing allows imports of GM soya beans and corn for use in animal feed, even though it does not permit the planting of them.

China bought about 60 per cent of US soya exports, worth about US$12 billion (S$16.3 billion), before the ongoing US-China trade war, and could reject shipments of unapproved varieties.

Beijing promised to speed up its review of applications during previous trade talks with the US in 2017. In the past, Beijing has held back approvals of imported GM products amid concerns about anti-GM sentiment in China.

The trade deal, should it be agreed, is expected to include a six-year timeframe for the purchases of more than US$1 trillion worth of US goods, including commodity products.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'GM crops still a sticking point in US-China trade talks: Sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe