* Chinese premier on official visit to No. 2 corn exporter
* Traders say corn exports to China hinge on GMO approvals
* Wen also signs series of transport finance agreements
* "Corn is a diplomatic
(Adds details on other finance accords)
By Maximilian Heath
BUENOS AIRES, June 25 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
said China is interested in buying more corn from Argentina, the
world's second-biggest supplier after the United States, a
senior Argentine Agriculture Ministry official told Reuters on
Argentina signed a deal with China on corn exports earlier
this year, raising market expectations that Argentine corn would
soon start heading to the world's most populous country.
However, traders and export industry sources say it is still
unclear whether Argentine corn can enter the Chinese market
because the accord did not cover some of the genetically
modified strains produced in the South American country.
"(Wen) said during the meeting (with Argentine officials)
that they're interested in buying more corn from Argentina,"
Oscar Solis, deputy agriculture secretary for added-value and
new technologies, told Reuters without giving further details.
Wen, on an official visit to Argentina, signed a series of
accords after meeting President Cristina Fernandez on Monday.
"Corn is a kind of diplomatic commodity. The trading volume
much depends on how good the bilateral relationships are," a
trader said, adding that rising Chinese imports of U.S. corn
were largely aimed at helping balance bilateral trade.
Traders say that as long as Argentine farmers grow the same
kind of GMO corn as U.S. producers do, China should have no
problem importing Argentine corn. China has approved 12 GMO corn
strains for import.
Argentina is forecast to sell abroad 13 million tonnes of
2011/12 corn and 16 million tonnes of the 2012/13 crop,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Chinese corn imports are forecast to increase to 7 million
tonnes in 2012/2013, due in part to rising livestock and
industrial consumption, a report this month by a USDA attache in
Wen, who is due to end his Latin American tour in Chile on
Tuesday after also visiting Brazil and Uruguay, asked leaders of
South American trade bloc Mercosur to look into the possibility
of a free-trade deal with China.
China, the world's second-biggest economy, is a key market
for many of the region's farm exports and has invested heavily
in Argentina's energy and agricultural sectors in recent years
as it seeks to guarantee future supplies.
One of the accords signed during Wen's visit was a roughly
$2 billion low-interest loan package to finance the
modernization of the Belgrano Cargas railway, a 1,500-km (930
miles) route that stretches into important soy-growing regions
in the north of the country, the Economy Ministry said.
China is a leading buyer of Argentine soybeans and soyoil.
Argentina's total exports to China totaled $6.24 billion
last year, while Chinese imports to Latin America's No.3 economy
reached $10.57 billion, according to government data.
(Additional reporting by Niu Shuping in BEIJING and Helen
Popper in BUENOS AIRES; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Paul