BEIJING — Organizations representing soybean growers from across the Americas recently wrapped up a trade mission to China, where they addressed issues including supply and approvals of new biotech products.

“We’ve been hearing a steady message here that China is concerned about its food security and does realize that biotechnology will play a big part of their food safety and security,” said Jared Hagert, a North Dakota farmer serving as treasurer of the United Soybean Board. “The attitude we have received from the Chinese government has been positive but cautious toward biotech approvals.”

The soybean board was joined by the American Soybean Association and the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

The mission also included representatives from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The five countries comprise the International Soy Growers Alliance, formed in 2007.

“We view ourselves as competitors, but also as partners in feeding the world,” said soybean association President Ray Gaesser.

The export council’s Jim Sutter added, “It really helps, showing this partnership. We make a very powerful front together.”

China’s long-term plan calls for the world’s most-populous country to become self-sufficient in rice and wheat and virtually self-sufficient in corn. But increasing soy imports likely will continue well into the future, and the nation’s leaders understand that biotechnology will play a big role in soybean production.

“They realize, as we do, that they are going to need growing imports of soy,” Hagert said. “They see the need for increased production.”

Slow Process

Still, members of the group expressed concern about the speed of approvals of genetically modified beans, such as Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist weed-control system, which includes soybeans resistant to glyphosate and 2,4-D.

“They are a little bit slow, we believe, in the approval process here in China,” Gaesser said. “We shared our concerns about the need for not only this product, but the other 20-plus new traits that are going to be available to the soybean farmers in the next seven years.

“Timely and science-based approval process is one of the messages that we’ve shared with our Chinese friends — that we really need to see that happen in order to help us as farmers fulfill their needs and the needs of everyone else around the world.”

Hagert pointed to some progress, but also expressed some frustration with the speed of the Chinese adoption of some GMO beans.

“The approval process has three opportunities of comment from the government. There has been some give and take there on Enlist approval,” he said. “We would like to see them move ahead so we can add another tool to our toolbox.”

Hagert said Chinese soybean buyers appreciated being able to talk to representatives of the five nations representing the alliance. He added that 99 percent of soybeans imported by China come from the Americas.

“It certainly got their attention to be able to come together and find some common goals to work toward with these massive amounts of soybean acres,” he said.

Though the share of soybean exports from South America is outpacing those from the U.S., that is no cause for concern, said Paul Burke, the council’s North Asia regional director.

“We have about a 37 percent market share here in China,” Burke said. “That is a smaller market share that we’ve enjoyed in the past several years. Nevertheless, you have to look at the volume of exports that are originating from the United States and not look at the market.”

“We’re expecting to have a record year of exports to China this year. When we can get that volume and not worry about market share, that benefits U.S. soybean farmers because it clears the inventory, and that’s where they make their money,” he said.