Persistence key for market access to China, Vilsack says

(Lisa Guenther photo)

San Antonio | Grainews –– Gaining market access to China may come down to persistence and patience, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters at Commodity Classic in San Antonio.

Achieving market access to China has been easier said than done for the U.S. at times. China has turned back over 600,000 tonnes of U.S. corn and corn products since November. The rejected corn contains a genetically modified Syngenta trait that is still awaiting approval from Beijing.

Most recently, the U.S. industry has been trying to figure out how to handle corn containing Syngenta’s Duracade trait, which hasn’t been approved in China or the European Union. Syngenta this week announced it has pulled Duracade corn seed from sale to farmers in Canada. [Related story]

U.S. farmers can still grow the variety, but Archer Daniels Midland recently stated it won’t accept corn containing the trait. Cargill won’t accept the corn for export. [Related story]

Vilsack, asked by a reporter why China is rejecting American food products, said it was partly a matter of China wanting more for less than what they’d agreed to months ago.

“As crop prices fluctuate, these folks are pretty good at checking markets. So that may be part of it,” he said.

But price isn’t China’s only motivation for blocking U.S. food products, in Vilsack’s opinion. China’s leaders are also concerned about “public perception of an over-reliance on Western technology and the belief that Western technology will somehow overshadow or overcome Chinese culture.”

“It’s something the Chinese have been dealing with for a long time,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. companies that want to do business in China have to communicate what’s in it for Chinese producers and consumers, Vilsack said.

“I think you say, ‘Look, there’s enough business here for everybody. There’s going to be a whole lot more business as populations increase,” said Vilsack.

“And the reality is we don’t want to get in a situation where we have too many people and too few crops. And you have an opportunity to step up, but in order to step up you have to embrace the technology.”

Vilsack said a Chinese-American agricultural business group is trying to persuade China that such technology is in the country’s best interest. And the U.S. is working with Brazil to create “consistent messaging about biotechnology to the Chinese.”

Working with Brazil has helped, freeing up applications that have been pending in China for some time, Vilsack said.

Vilsack acknowledged that market access issues are frustrating to farmers and agriculture companies.

“But if we want to do business with these folks long-term, we need to understand patience is a virtue. We need to just keep educating them, keep hammering away.”

— Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask.

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