With China's GMO sector in limbo, local seed firm targets U.S.

Sun Dec 6, 2015 4:14pm EST
 
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By Dominique Patton

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese biotech seed firm is aiming to launch the country's first genetically modified corn products overseas on the home turf of the world's top agricultural companies, as Beijing's reticence over GMO food keeps the domestic market off limits.

The plan by Beijing-based Origin Agritech to test its technology in the United States, which has dominated the sector with GMO giants such as Monsanto, is the latest effort by a Chinese firm to enter the global industry.

Earlier this year, China National Chemical Corp sought to skirt obstacles at home and acquire a tried-and-tested GMO pipeline by bidding for the world's top agrichemicals firm Swiss-based Syngenta.

Beijing's GMO policy has at times appeared inconsistent - billions of dollars have been spent on developing technology it hopes will ensure supplies for its 1.4 billion people, while no major food crops have been approved for cultivation given deep-seated anti-GMO sentiment in the country. Bumper harvests in the past decade have also reduced the urgency for new technologies.

"Consumer attitude is one thing, but the government attitude is even more important," said Huang Dafang, professor at the Biotechnology Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. That leaves firms like Origin with few options to earn revenues from GMO products in China, he added.

U.S.-listed Origin has invested more than 300 million yuan ($46.90 million) in biotech since 2005 and, without an opportunity to market its product at home, it now plans to enter the United States in 2016, according to a presentation on the Securities and Exchange Commission website.

Entering the U.S. market could take several paths from licensing its technology to setting up a unit there, Origin's chief financial officer, James Chen, told Reuters.

But getting a foothold in such a highly competitive market will not be easy, experts warn.   Continued...

 
The name of Origin Agritech is seen through the windows of the company's headquarters in Beijing, November 27, 2015.     REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon