U.S.-China GM0-approval breakthrough anticipated

Canadian farmers may benefit from the trade dispute between the United States and China to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

One of the final sticking points in the talks is China’s lengthy approval process for genetically modified crops, according to a Reuters story.

Ian Affleck, vice-president of biotechnology with CropLife Canada, is keeping his fingers crossed that the U.S. is able to force China into making concessions on its sloth-like approval process.

“I’m hesitant to speculate on the outcome of any policy discussions with China but I think we do have hope,” he said.

China approved five GM crops for import in January during a visit from a U.S. trade delegation in what one Chinese official said was a goodwill gesture toward resolving the trade dispute.

Affleck said that could be a sign that China is willing to streamline the process by making it predictable and science-based.

“Hopefully that is speaking towards momentum,” he said.

China is the only country in the world that requires new GM traits to be approved in the country of origin before it will entertain an application for approval.

That is followed by a painstakingly long review process that lasts six to eight years compared to less than two years in Canada.

Canada does not commercialize new traits until approvals are in place in all the key export markets.

“This results in a six-to-eight year delay for Canadian farmers to get their hands on that technology,” said Affleck.

And that is costing growers hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to a Canola Council of Canada estimate.

The council issued a news release in January when China approved the five traits, including BASF’s Liberty tolerance trait and Bayer’s TruFlex trait for canola.

The council said once those two traits are commercialized, along with Corteva’s Optimum GLY trait that is still stuck in China’s system, growers will be able to produce $400 million more worth of canola every year using the same amount of land.

“These traits will make Canada’s canola crop more resilient in the face of weed, disease and weather stresses,” council president Jim Everson said in the news release.

“The benefits will be felt through the value chain and the larger Canadian economy.”

Seed companies pay a hefty price for having their new traits tied up in regulatory red tape for years, said Affleck.

They have to maintain their seed stocks and breeding lines and are constantly having to get the new traits into the latest germplasm.

“There is a large cost to the developer to keep these traits around while they wait for Chinese approvals,” he said.

The regulatory delays and unpredictable nature of China’s approval process is leading to investment chill in the agriculture technology sector.

“Why would a new company get in that space if they see this spectre of non-science-based trade barriers hanging over their head?” said Affleck.

The European Union’s regulatory approval system used to be the main impediment to getting new traits to market but in the last five years China’s has become the bigger obstacle.

“We’ve really seen that process drift further and further away from a predictable, science-based approach,” he said.

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