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U.S., China Sign Food Safety Cooperation Agreement

BEIJING, China, July 12, 2005 (ENS) - The United States and China have agreed to increase bilateral cooperation on animal and plant health and food safety, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Monday on his first visit to China since he took over as head of the agency in January.

Johanns took part in the meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, a bilateral forum for resolving trade issues, which was also attended by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Leading the delegation for China was Vice Premier Wu Yi.

"We will establish a vehicle to address the sanitary, phytosanitary and food safety issues that have hindered U.S. agriculture's access to this important market," Johanns said.

Johanns and Minister Li Changjiang of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine reached an agreement on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to improve bilateral cooperation on animal and plant health and food safety.

Johanns

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and China's Minister Li Changjiang of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
"With this MOU, we will establish a vehicle to address the sanitary, phytosanitary and food safety issues that have hindered U.S. agriculture's access to this important market," said Johanns.

The MOU will establish a forum to seek resolution of bilateral technical food safety issues and promote scientific exchange to resolve technical barriers to trade in products such as meat, poultry and eggs.

The agreement provides for the exchanges of information on laws; regulations and standards; inspection and quarantine procedures; methodology and technology; pests and disease; toxic and harmful residues; food certification and establishment registration.

Johanns urged China to lift its ban on imports of U.S. beef, saying the country should adhere to an internationally recognized science based system of beef testing.

In response, Johanns announced, Chinese officials said they would send a technical team to the United States in October. In the meantime, they agreed to work with USDA officials to provide more information on the timeline and process for reopening their market to U.S. beef.

China and many other countries closed their borders to U.S. beef after the December 2003 discovery of a dairy cow in Washington state that was infected with mad cow disease. A second cow, a Texas beef animal, was found to have the fatal brain wasting disease last month.

U.S. Agriculture officials say meat from the Texas animal did not enter the U.S. food supply.

Johanns also said China now has approved for use in the country a new genetically engineered variety of maize, or corn, Monsanto's NK603, which is modified to tolerate Monsanto's herbicide Roundup.

This brings to eight the number of varieties of genetically engineered maize approved by China, along with two varieties of cotton, seven varieties of canola and one variety of soybean, the USDA said.

The USDA's policy is to open trade markets around the world for genetically modified U.S. crops, regardless of critics who claim that genetically modified crops are not sufficiently tested and may give rise to allergic reactions in sensitive people. Organic farmers are concerned that windblown pollen from nearby biotech crops will contaminate their fields.

Johanns said his agency is willing to work with China to promote a regulatory system to expedite future approvals.

"Cooperation is essential in any trading relationship," said Johanns. "A great example of our cooperative efforts is in the area of biotechnology where we are working together on the development and use of agricultural biotechnology that benefits farmers and consumers alike. U.S. corn farmers will welcome the long awaited Chinese approval of Roundup Ready corn," he said.

"Last year, U.S. farmers and ranchers sold over $6 billion in agriculture products to China, making it our 5th largest export market," said Johanns. "These agreements with the Chinese today will help to further expand our trade opportunities with one of American agriculture's top trading partners to build on our current trade success."

Today, the U.S. officials are in Dalian, China, at a meeting with their counterparts in World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries.

The WTO Informal Ministerial Meeting of more than 300 delegates is being held in preparation for the upcoming world trade negotiations slated for December 13 to 18 in Hong Kong.

At Dalian ministers are discussing the five core areas of the conference - agriculture, non-agricultural market access, development, services and rules.

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi warned the heads of delegations to the WTO on Friday that the the Doha Round of negotiations "are in trouble."

Panitchpakdi

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi (Photo courtesy WTO)
"Everyone has a generalized commitment to progress, but when it comes to the specifics, the familiar defensive positions take over," the WTO leader said.

While noting that "some progress" has been made in resolving agricultural issues, " this has not yet sufficiently galvanized the negotiations on the most fundamental element of the market access package, the tiered formula for tariff cuts," Dr. Panitchpakdi said.

Progress in resolving Non-Agricultural Market Access issues is constrained by the lack of progress in agriculture, he said.

"The crisis that threatens is all the more menacing because it is not a crisis of dramatic divergences or headline-grabbing conflict - it is a crisis of immobility," said Panitchpakdi. "I think there is still a slender chance of averting it, but every hour must be made to count."



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