China trade meeting yields movement on biotech approvals

JCCT meeting yields commitment by China to quickly review 11 ag biotech events pending approval.

By JACQUI FATKA

In its annual session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), top U.S. and Chinese officials announced key outcomes on agricultural technologies. Secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus participated in this year’s JCCT.

The Government of China indicated it would move quickly to review the 11 agricultural biotechnology events pending approval, Vilsack said. “My hope is that over the next 30 to 60 days, these words are met with consistent action.”

China is the largest export market for U.S. soybeans ($14.7 billion in 2014) and a major export market for U.S. corn and corn products ($1.3 billion in 2014).  Agricultural biotechnology is important to U.S. farmers of these products, with acreage for biotechnology varieties of soybeans and corn totaling over 90% of all varieties of soybeans and corn in 2014.

Ahead of the visit, U. S. Biotech Crops Alliance (USBCA) members had urged the U.S. government to follow-up on the short term commitments made by China to advance the full queue of products and specifically to issue safety certificates for all products that have cleared the National Biosafety Committee by year end.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the United States, a series of concrete commitments were established aimed at creating an enabling environment for agricultural innovation between the U.S. and China, which included an improved biotech import-approval process and reiterating the need for a timely, transparent, predictable, science-based approval process.

Vilsack also shared the JCCT allowed the two nations to continue dialogue on access for U.S. beef. “We are committed to making serious and sustained progress on these issues and more as our relationship continues to grow,” he said.

Over the past decade, the United States' agricultural exports to China have risen sharply, propelling China into its position as the fastest-growing and highest-value export destination for U.S. farm and food products. In 2011, China surpassed Canada to become the top U.S. market and it has since retained that position. In fiscal year (FY) 2015, U.S. agriculture and related exports to China totaled $25.9 billion, comprising approximately 16% of all U.S. agricultural exports.

Due to China's severe cropland shortage and inexpensive labor force, U.S. exports to the country have traditionally been dominated by land-intensive bulk commodities that China then processes for domestic consumption or export.

Vilsack added, “This JCCT offered an opportunity for China and the United States to reaffirm the outcomes reached in September at the Strategic Agricultural Innovation Dialogue, and I am hopeful that China will continue to move forward with much-needed reforms to develop a regulatory system that is science- and rules-based, transparent and predictable.” 

The JCCT holds high-level plenary meetings on an annual basis to review progress made by 16 working groups that meet throughout the year to focus on a wide variety of trade and investment issues. These working groups address topics such as intellectual property rights, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, information technology, tourism, commercial law, environment, trade remedies and statistics.

Established in 1983, the JCCT is the primary forum for addressing bilateral trade and investment issues and promoting commercial opportunities between the United States and China. The 2014 JCCT meeting was held in Chicago.

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