China gives long-awaited GM crop approvals amid U.S. trade talks

China approved five genetically modified (GM) crops for import, the first in about 18 months in a move that could boost its overseas grains purchases and ease pressure from the United States to open its markets to more farm goods.

The United States is the world’s biggest producer of GM crops, while China is the top importer of GM soybeans and canola.

U.S. farmers and global seed companies have long complained about Beijing’s slow and unpredictable process for approving GM crops for import, stoking trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The approvals were granted while a U.S. trade delegation is meeting with its counterparts in the Chinese capital this week.

“It’s a goodwill gesture towards the resolution of the trade issue. It’s been in the system for a long time but China chose today to release this good news” said a China representative of a U.S. agricultural industry association.

Two of the newly approved products – BASF’s RF3 canola and Bayer-owned Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant MON 88302 canola – had been waiting six years for permission.

Five other products known to be seeking approvals were not given the green light, including two GM alfalfa products developed by Monsanto and two DowDuPont soybean traits.

Chinese officials met their U.S. counterparts in Beijing on Monday for the first face-to-face talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global markets.

China had not approved any GM crops for import since July 2017, when it cleared two products following high-level talks with Washington. It also approved two products in June 2017. China’s scientific advisory board on GM crops met in June but did not give the go ahead for imports of any products.

“China’s approval of the new GMO products is paving the way for the country to import large volumes of U.S. soybeans in the future. It is a positive signal,” said Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd.