China's biotech rules worry exporters

by Chrystal Shannon
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BEIJING, CHINA — China’s biotech rules came into effect March 20, 2002, to the concern of many grain exporters. The U.S. agriculture attaché from Beijing said that the biotech regulations could pose a serious barrier to trade.

"Several items are of particular concern," the report said. "For the import permits, the rules allow Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to take up to 270 working days to decide whether to issue the certificate or not and do not specify the basis on which permits could be refused. The regulations also fail to specify what documents are necessary to receive the initial safety certification for biotech cargoes. In addition, there is no threshold set for biotech content in biotech-free cargoes, effectively setting the tolerance at zero."

More recently, Chinese officials have also stated that testing for biotech materials could extend to foreign matter included in the shipment. If true, a single grain of an unregistered biotech corn variety in a shipment of soybeans would be sufficient to reject the entire cargo.

"If enforced as written, the rules could shut down trade in soybeans, soybean products, canola and canola oil and other products for an uncertain length of time," the report said.

Biotech companies will be able to obtain an interim safety certificate while they await the processing of their application for safety certification of their product. The exporter will need an application form for the interim safety certificate and a valid safety evaluation document issued by the exporting country’s government/authority, the U.K.-based Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA) advises. At the same time the Chinese importer must also apply to the GMO Office for permission to label the imported GMO products. If approved, the GMO Office will within 30 days from the date of application issue an interim safety certificate, permitting the export to take place and giving permission for the use of the GMO labeling on entry into China, said GAFTA, who is continuing to provide exporter assistance via its office in Beijing.

"This is a system already pursued by several countries in Europe," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said. "It will give consumers the right to decide for themselves."

Meanwhile, the Dalian futures exchange market reached agreement with the China Securities Regulatory Commission to introduce a "Category 1" contract that includes only non-modified produce.

International standard soybeans, the majority of which are GM, are now restricted to a lower "Category 2" futures contracts. Under the new classification, GMO soybeans must be limited to use as an oil product.

The new non-GMO classification is an attempt to create a niche export market for non-GMO soybeans from China, industry analysts say.