European restrictions on genetically modified (GM) crops have driven BASF Plant Science to intensify biotech cooperation activities in Asia Pacific with an agreement with China's National Institute of Biological Sciences (NIBS).
The cooperation and licensing agreement in biotechnology is the chemical company's first in China, and focuses on increasing yield in staple crops such as corn, soybeans and rice through genetic modification.
"Asia is emerging as a key player in plant biotechnology both in research and cultivation and we are striving to intensify partnerships in this dynamic region. Europe, on the contrary, is losing its competitiveness due to slow and contradictory political decisions," said Hans Kast, President and CEO of BASF Plant Science.
NIBS has identified a family of genes that have been found to increase crop yield for corn, soybeans and rice. However, according to Mette Johansson, BASF manager of communications, it is likely the genes can be transferred into a range of crops.
"We are disappointed by political developments in Europe," Johansson told FoodNavigator.com.
Last year, France declared a moriatum on the cultivation of GM crops, which President Sarkozy has now extended amid health concerns.
Austria enforced a ban on the import and processing of Monsanto's MON810 and Bayer's T25 maize in June 1999, and the Commission has been debating whether to force the country to lift its restrictions since 2005.
Also, this week, there will be a vote in Germany on laws surrounding the cultivation of GM crops, Johansson said.
She continued: "Politicians are making is more and more difficult for farmers to grow these products. Furthermore, Europe has a very high quality of researchers and we are concerned about how these political decisions will affect this standard, as research will only continue if the new products will be used.
Meanwhile, Asia Pacific is getting more competitive, offering a more interesting challenge for biotech research.
"NIBS was established in 2003 to advance the frontier of basic research in life sciences in China," said Professor Deng Xing Wang, plant biologist co-director at NIBS.
"We are very proud that our efforts in this area have lead to groundbreaking results in a little more than four years. Discoveries in yield increase like those made by NIBS will help meet booming worldwide demand for food and drink and feed."
Increasing yield in staple crops is imperative for countries such as China, according to the two organisations, as rising standards of living has caused meat consumption to increase by 300 per cent in the past 20 years, with the demand for animal feed rising accordingly.
At the same time, factors such as urbanisation are reducing the amount of arable land in Asia.
Under the agreement, BASF obtains exclusive rights to develop and commercialise transgenic crops with the discovered genes outside China. NIBS retains the right to market crops in China.
Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.
This is the second Asia Pacific union BASF has entered in the past few months. In October, it signed a cooperation and licensing agreement in South Korea, which focused on plant traits to increase yield and improve stress tolerance in major crops.
Previously, it also began a high-yield wheat project with the Australian Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre.
Johansson said the company is open to signing more agreements in Asia. She said: "We are definitely keeping an eye on Asia and any interesting developments in R&D."
While BASF is increasing its global presence and activities in Asia Pacific, it insists it has no plans as yet to refocus on these other countries and all European commitments will remain.