Hiccups to Chinese imports of US corn 'may worsen'

The hiccups surrounding Chinese imports of US corn are "likely to persist or worsen" thanks to the uncertainty over regulation of genetically modified varieties but buy-ins of the grain are likely to rise longer term.

US Department of Agriculture staff in Beijing underlined the setback to US corn exports to China from the detection of a biotech corn variety, Syngenta's MIR 162, which has not been approved by Beijing.

"Some traders have cancelled shipments altogether, while others have delayed Beijing contracts in hope that the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture will approve MIR 162 before the end of the marketing year," the USDA bureau said.

"However, there has been no indication that this situation will be resolved quickly."

China's "slow and unpredictable" system for regulating GMO crops "has created a challenging environment for agricultural imports that is likely to persist or worsen".

'Highly consequential'

However, further ahead, prospects remain bright for corn imports by China, which the USDA foresees growing into the biggest corn importer, with purchases of 19.6m tonnes by 2022-23.

A "tightly coded, but highly consequential" speech by China's president, Xi Jinping, in December on food policy, advocating self-sufficiency for food grains, but allowing for an "appropriate" level of corn imports, appears to have created the conditions for higher buy-ins.

China's new policy "may increase corn imports in the long run", the bureau said.

Syngenta position

The comments come amid a heightened focus on China's corn imports, amid the GM rumpus, which prompted two US industry associations to urge Syngenta to withdraw corn seed of varieties not approved by China.

Syngenta said last week it was still marketing two corn seed brands under fire, Viptera and Duracade, flagging demand from farmers for the protection against corn rootworm, a moth caterpillar,that they allow.

 On Viptera, Davor Pisk, the Syngenta chief operating officer, told investors that "we need to recognize that this is a product that has been established now in the marketplace three seasons, great broad lep [moth] control, [and] customers really appreciate it.

"Also domestic demand for corn, let's remember, accounts for the vast majority of corn production."

On Duracade, a new brand, Mr Pisk said that Syngenta had received "very strong orders" and was "sold out".

"This is the first year of launch. In any first year volumes are limited as we ramp up and scale up production."

On Friday, Tom Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary, said that the US had been "working with the Chinese to try to get their regulatory process to be more accepting of biotechnology".

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