The Chinese government may revise laws and regulations governing biotechnology.
In May 2015, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released a draft amendment to the Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms for public comments, which was later notified to the World Trade Organization SPS Committee. The amendment would remove timelines for approvals and add economic and social factors to the approval process for the first time.
Biotechnology is designated as a strategic emerging industry in China, and the government invests heavily in biotechnology research.
In September 2014, the government released remarks by President Xi Jinping affirming official support for biotechnology research, but calling for a cautious approach to commercialization. He also said that foreign companies should not be allowed to “dominate the agricultural biotechnology product market.”
This is the first time remarks by President Xi on biotechnology have been made public.
In February 2015, the Chinese Communist Party pledged in its annual high-level policy paper on agriculture to strengthen research, safety management and public outreach on biotechnology.
According to recent news reports, several domestic companies are preparing to submit Bt corn events to MOA for approval for domestic cultivation. It is expected to take three to five years before these events are commercialized.
China has not approved any foreign biotech food or feed crops for domestic commercial production.
When foreign companies have asked to submit an application for domestic cultivation, MOA informed them that China’s foreign direct investment restrictions prohibit them from doing so.
There have been increasing reports of farmers in China planting unapproved insect-resistant varieties of corn and rice to cope with rising pest pressures, but it is unclear how widespread this trend is.
MOA approved two new soybean and one corn variety for import in December 2014. These were the first new approvals since June 2013.
The increasingly slow and unpredictable approval process resulted in large-scale trade disruptions. Corn trade remains weak after the approval of the corn event MIR 162, while DDGS trade witnessed a recovery. Trade in other products, such as alfalfa, have also suffered from biotech related trade disruptions.
Despite these challenges, China is expected to remain a significant importer of biotech products, notably soybeans.
The United States, as well as many other countries, has continued to press China to adhere to a science-based policy on biotechnology approvals.
Andrew Anderson-Sprecher is an attaché and Ma Jie is an ag specialist in the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Beijing. These comments are from the executive summary of their report issued last month, “China considering major revisions to biotechnology regulations.”