China has blocked about a quarter of U.S. corn imports this year, the largest volume it has rejected, blaming the discovery of an unapproved genetically-modified strain.
A robust domestic harvest has allowed China leeway in returning U.S. shipments and to signal that it isn't letting up on scrutiny of foreign grain, even as policy makers debate whether to allow more domestic consumption of genetically modified food. Increasing demand has propelled China from being a net corn exporter to the world's fifth-largest buyer.
China's quality watchdog said Friday it repatriated 545,000 metric tons of U.S. corn because it contained MIR-162, an insect-resistant strain permitted in the U.S. and Europe but not approved by China's agriculture ministry. Beijing allows some transgenic corn strains for import to be used as animal feed. China's agriculture ministry said it is still evaluating the MIR-162 strain.
Analysts say this year's rejection is a record-high volume of grain turned away from Chinese ports. No corn shipments were rejected last year and only a negligible amount was sent away in the last three years, said Zhang Yan, an analyst with the consultancy Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Before 2010, China was a net corn exporter and bought only small and sporadic shipments of foreign corn, Ms. Zhang said.
分析师们称，今年中国港口的玉米退运量创历史最高水平。上海汇易咨询有限公司(Shanghai JC Intelligence Co.)的分析师张燕（音译）说，去年没有玉米退运记录，过去三年的玉米退运数量更是微乎其微。张燕说，2010年之前，中国是玉米净出口国，只少量、零星地购买外国玉米。
The tainted corn was found in 12 batches of U.S. shipments sent to ports in at least six provinces, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said. The agency said its quarantine bureaus have notified U.S. authorities and urged the U.S. to 'improve its inspection procedures.'
Syngenta AG, which makes the MIR-162 strain, called on China in an emailed statement Friday to update its laws to allow the strain. 'The solution is with the Chinese authorities,' a spokeswoman said. 'If they want to import corn from the major corn producing areas of the world they should synchronize their regulatory process so that they can accept the corn being grown in those regions.'
Traders worry the rejections may herald a slowdown in demand for exports to China. Chinese importers had lined up 3 million tons of U.S. corn imports by summer this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in August.
交易员们担心退运可能导致市场对进口的美国玉米需求放缓。美国农业部(Department of Agriculture)曾在8月份表示，今年夏季中国进口商订购了300万吨美国玉米。
However, an ample harvest in China may have blunted the country's need for the imports. State grain researchers say China's corn harvest this year of an estimated 215 million tons was likely a 5% rise over 2012, though the government hasn't disclosed the exact volume. Official data say China's total grain harvest, which includes corn, is up 2% from a year ago.
'There's the genetic modification issue, but a more realistic factor to consider is that domestic corn supply has been quite high lately, so there isn't quite as much a need for foreign supply,' said Rabobank analyst Pan Chenjun.
China imported about 1.5 million tons of corn from the U.S. in the first 10 months of this year, according to customs data. Senior government officials have warned that the country may face a rising corn supply deficit in coming years due to increasing demand from food-processing industries.
The move comes as Chinese and U.S. officials begin trade talks Friday in Beijing at their Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade to address bilateral trade issues. The talks will likely address the corn trade, though it is uncertain if the issue would be resolved quickly, Ms. Zhang said. U.S. shipments currently account for 94% of China's corn imports.
In recent months, the agriculture ministry has defended a trend of rising corn imports by arguing in a series of public statements that 'using domestic and foreign resources, and coordinating between the two markets, are an inevitable choice for China.'
Some military strategists have warned that Western nations could use genetically modified organisms, or GMO, as a strategy to undermine China's food security.
China is moving to diversify the sources of its corn imports. In recent months, it has struck deals with Argentina and Brazil to permit corn imports, including approved genetically modified strains for animal consumption, from these nations.