BEIJING Dow Chemical Co secured import approval from China for its next-generation Enlist corn variety and announced it would be commercially available in the United States and Canada next year, but the company was still awaiting approval of Enlist soybeans from the world's top soy importer.
China on Wednesday approved two new varieties of genetically modified (GMO) crops for import from June 12, including Dow's Enlist corn, engineered to combat weeds resistant to the widely used herbicide glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide.
China, the top export market for U.S. agricultural products, had pledged in May to speed up a review of biotech products as part of a trade deal with the United States, expediting eight products that have been pending for more than four years.
Along with Enlist corn, Monsanto's Vistive Gold soybeans were also approved for import, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement.
"We're very pleased to see the progress that's being made, that's been catalyzed by the discussions between the U.S. government and the Chinese government," said Joe Vertin, global leader for Dow's Enlist Weed Control System.
The Enlist platform is Dow AgroScience's largest-ever product launch and key to reaching its forecast for boosting seed sales by $600 million by 2020. Dow's Enlist soybeans are still being reviewed by officials in China and the European Union.
The approvals of new GMO imports follow an agreement on protocols for shipments of U.S. beef to China that was also promised under the broader trade deal last month.
China does not permit the planting of genetically modified food crops but does allow GMO imports, such as soybeans, for use in its animal feed industry.
Getting a new GMO crop variety approved for import by China takes around six years, compared with under three in other major markets, forcing leading agrichemical players to restrict sales during China's review process.
"We are aware of the latest updates of the approval process and are encouraged by the fast progress that the Chinese government has made," said a spokeswoman for DuPont Pioneer, which is awaiting approval for an insect-tolerant corn.
"We look forward to more products getting approval."
The agriculture ministry said it had also renewed import approvals for 14 other GMO varieties including Syngenta's MIR162 Agrisure Viptera corn, a Monsanto sugar beet and three Bayer rapeseed products.
The approvals were for a three-year period lasting to 2020, the statement said.
Shares of Dow fell 1.1 percent and Monsanto was barely changed at midday.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu in Beijing, Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Tom Hogue and Andrew Hay)