China’s Shut-Out of American Corn Won’t End Anytime Soon
Disruptions in U.S. corn sales to China are likely to continue as farmers this spring plant seeds containing genetics the Asian nation has yet to approve, according to a U.S. grain-industry group.
Difficulties controlling grain as it’s shipped around the U.S. and the potential for pollen to drift on the wind make it “unavoidable” that a new genetically modified corn variety will find its way to China, the National Grain and Feed Association said in a report prepared for members and reviewed by the WSJ.
China’s tougher stance on imports of biotech corn have roiled U.S. agribusiness, largely halting trade with the fast-growing corn market, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Friday, citing a separate study by the grain-and-feed group showing that exports are down 85% this year from a year earlier. That study also revealed China has rejected 1.45 million metric tons of U.S. corn since mid-November on the grounds they contained an unapproved variety developed by Swiss seed maker Syngenta AGSYNN.VX -1.25%.
China’s rejections of U.S. corn shipments have raised alarm bells among major grain trading companies, who fear being shut out of the critical export market. It also has put Syngenta on the defensive, just as the company this year began selling a new corn variety in the U.S. that also lacks China’s approval.
The Asian country began denying U.S. grain last autumn after turning up a Syngenta variety called Viptera, which the company launched in 2011, and which was submitted in 2010 to Chinese regulators for approval.
Analysts have speculated that China is using the genetically modified corn as a way to get out of deals to buy U.S. grain. Chinese officials have said the rejections are based on the presence of the unapproved corn.
This year Syngenta began selling Duracade, a new form of corn engineered for stronger pest resistance. Syngenta sought China’s approval for the corn last year but doesn’t expect a ruling before next March.
Syngenta has estimated the Duracade seeds will be planted on 250,000 to 300,000 acres this year, representing about 0.3% of total projected U.S. corn acreage. The company also set up a deal with Gavilon LLC, a Nebraska grain company that agreed to buy the corn from farmers after several rival grain merchants placed restrictions on purchases or refused to take it.
The grain and feed association, which represents major U.S. grain companies like Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), Bunge Ltd. (BG) and Cargill Inc., still sees problems. The group earlier this year called on Syngenta to stop selling the varieties that have yet to secure approval in China. The group said in one of its reports reviewed by the WSJ that grain companies have lost $427 million since China began rejecting U.S. corn cargoes in mid-November. Now a debate is brewing in the U.S. agricultural industry over who should bear responsibility for the losses.
Syngenta has rejected calls to stop selling seeds to U.S. farmers that haven’t been approved by China. The company declines to say if the seed companies should bear financial responsibility for rejected shipments.
In the report on Syngenta’s Duracade, Max Fisher, director of economics for the grain-and-feed group, predicts the presence of the corn will continue to weigh on U.S. corn exports to China, and will pressure the price of corn and related commodities. That would also impact farmers as they sell their grain, he wrote in the report.
Representatives of grain traders, seed companies and farmers are discussing how the U.S. agricultural industry can better align practices so as to avoid future trade disruptions over unapproved plant genetics.
Liability for losses arising from the sale of seeds that haven’t yet earned approval in major export markets is among the topics being discussed, officials say. The North American Export Grain Association, which represents big grain companies, has called on seed makers to “commit to fully bear the risks and liabilities associated with any commercialization or launch” of new biotech seeds.
Cathleen Enright, head of food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents seed companies, said: “Our supply-chain conversations are really moving beyond the notion of an automatic single point of responsibility with regard to trade disruptions.”Filed under: Countries / Civilizations, A farmer piles up corn in front of her house in Changzhi, China
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