After a series of environment and food safety tests on seven genetically modified crop strains - all from Monsanto - China's ministry of agriculture on Monday awarded its first batch of safety certificates for foreign genetically modified crops used for processing purposes in China.
'This announcement is good news for American farmers. China is the top foreign customer for US soybeans and cotton,' said agriculture secretary Ann M. Veneman and US trade representative Robert B. Zoellick in a statement this week.
The introduction of US GM crops into new markets has met with opposition the world over, most notably in Europe which last week failed to reach a decision on import access for Monsanto's NK603 maize. But approval from the Chinese - that opted not to clear NK603 - is a coup which will certainly lead to a major boost in earnings for the country's suppliers and processors of soybeans and maize.
For the first five months of the current marketing year, US soybean sales to China reached 8.3 million metric tons, more than a third of total US soybean sales to all export destinations.
But the recent outbreak of bird flu in Asia - this week also discovered in Texas, US - has been overhanging figures for US soy processors such as Cargill or Bunge as soybean exports used for bird feed came under threat with increasing worldwide bans on poultry from Asia. Chinese approval this week looks set to brighten the bottom line.
According to Chinese press reports the ministry, out of seven applications, granted safety certificates to five of Monsanto strains: Roundup Ready soybeans, one version of Roundup Ready corn, YieldGard Corn Borer, Bollgard cotton and Roundup Ready cotton. The certificates are valid for three to five years.
The other two - NK603 maize and Mon863 maize - were denied certificates for the time being, due to lack of necessary information, ministry officials said.
Processing is under way for another 11 applications from DuPont, Dow AgroSciences in the US, Bayer of Germany and Syngenta in Switzerland for exporting genetically modified rapeseed crops and maize, according to the ministry, write the reports.
Seen by some as a strategy to control its import trade, China previously required traders to obtain temporary safety certificates, usually valid for only a few months, if they wished to import biotech grains.
In 2003, US agricultural exports to China reached a record of nearly $5 billion, mostly due to exports of soybeans that brushed the $2.9 billion mark.