U.S., China meet to discuss transparency, biotech approvals

Countries conducted in-depth discussions, commit to further improve approval processes.

The U.S. and Chinese governments held a Strategic Agricultural Innovation Dialogue (SAID) meeting September 24 in conjunction with President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington D.C. last week.

China is a key export market for U.S. soybeans, but the trade is at risk due to China’s restrictive regulatory approval procedures for biotech products.

A White House statement said the two countries conducted in-depth discussions on the administration of agricultural biotechnology, and committed to further improve approval processes. 

“Both sides reaffirmed the importance of implementing timely, transparent, predictable, and science-based approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, which are based on international standards,” the statement said.

Additionally, both sides committed to strengthen policy formulation and information exchange, share experience in and practices of research and development, regulatory administration, and safety approval of agricultural biotechnology; further revise and improve regulation, based on comprehensive consultations with domestic and international stakeholders; and, enhance capabilities in safety administration and safety approval of agricultural biotechnology products.

Agriculture stakeholders from across the country, including Farm Bureaus, Corn Growers Associations, and Soybean Associations, and other industry partners sent several letters to President Barack Obama throughout the past month, reiterating the importance of ensuring swift, positive action on pending biotechnology issues. Additionally, U.S. Sens. John Thune (R, S.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D,Mich.), both members of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, of which Stabenow serves as ranking member, also led a bipartisan group of 42 senators in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to raise directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping the concerns of U.S. stakeholders regarding agricultural biotech approval delays by China.

“To reinvigorate last year’s progress, we ask that you seek a commitment from President Xi to move forward with the queue of biotechnology products, including those awaiting final import approvals,” the senators wrote. “In addition, we ask that you reengage President Xi on the value of elevating the agricultural innovation dialogue via the SAID so that our countries can continue to address mutual food security, environmental and rural economic policy challenges.”

Goals for the meeting included seeing China establish a transparent, predictable and practical approach to both biotechnology approvals and imports of grains and oilseeds that may contain crop biotechnology, in addition to obtaining a commitment from President Xi to advance the full queue of biotechnology products, including the seven currently awaiting final import approvals, and other products in or awaiting field trials.

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Ag Minister visits farms

Han Changfu, the Chinese minister of agriculture, and members of his delegation visited U.S. Grains Council (USGC) vice chairman Chip Councell’s farm during a recent visit to the U.S. to see harvest firsthand and learn directly from Councell and his neighbors about how U.S. farmers plan, make decisions, and produce their crops.

The tours included stops at Councell’s corn fields and produce stand, a ride on a combine harvesting soybeans and on-site explanations of how farmers effectively manage risk and use modern practices to increase productivity including no-till farming, nutrient management plans in the sensitive Chesapeake Bay watershed and seeds improved with biotechnology.

“We were excited to have such a rare opportunity to host Minister Han on the farm and in our region,” Councell said. “Having him and his staff here was a unique chance to not just talk about U.S. agriculture but to show it as it is happening. This type of visit makes our conversations about conservation, sustainability, biotechnology and food security come alive.”

Han and his staff also visited farms in Louisiana with USGC Chairman Alan Tiemann, a farmer in Nebraska, and USGC president and chief executive officer Tom Sleight accompanying a group of corn and soybean farmers and industry representatives.

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