US group seeks better access to China's farm goods market

BEIJING — An American business group appealed to China on Tuesday to ease import restrictions on agricultural goods including genetically modified seeds and other biotechnology, highlighting complaints Beijing blocks market access despite its vocal support for free trade.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China wants a quicker review of foreign biotechnology products, an end to restrictions on beef and pork imports and other changes. In a report, the group said that could improve the food supply for China's consumers and create new opportunities for Chinese and foreign companies.

Chinese leaders have publicly defended free trade in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's promises to restrict imports. But Tuesday's report was a reminder of enduring complaints China is the least open major economy.

In a separate segment of the food industry, foreign suppliers are alarmed by Chinese plans to require intensive inspections of imports including low-risk items such as wine and chocolate. The United States, the European Union and other suppliers worry that could disrupt billions of dollars of trade and are lobbying Beijing to scale back its requirement.

In agriculture, the American chamber cited areas ranging from genetically modified seeds to grain processing to pork in which imports and foreign competitors are banned or sharply restricted.

"There is huge opportunity for foreign business to access the Chinese market and that will really bring the whole industry up," a co-chairman of the chamber's agriculture committee, Yong Gao, told reporters.

Foreign suppliers have long complained Beijing uses safety and other regulations to hamper imports of food and farm goods.

In biotechnology, the chamber said Chinese approval of imported products takes several times longer than in the United States, Brazil or other countries and the process is slowing down. Regulators approved only one of 18 foreign products under review in a list issued in January. Gao said that was fewer than in recent years.

"The industry is extremely disappointed," he said.

Beijing lifted an import ban on U.S. beef in October, but producers must wait for individual facilities to be inspected by Chinese regulators before shipments can begin, a process that can take months.

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