(Adds U.S. Grains Council statement, details on Ukraine corn supply, U.S. distillers’ dried grain prices)
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Syngenta AG expects to win Chinese government approval soon for imports of a type of genetically modified corn at the center of lawsuits over U.S. grain shipments rejected by Beijing, a company spokesman said on Friday.
Syngenta, one of the world’s largest seed companies, will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import, spokesman Paul Minehart said. He declined further comment.
Approval would be significant because U.S. corn trading with China has essentially shut down since Beijing began turning away cargoes containing MIR 162 corn in November 2013. However, it was unclear whether Syngenta’s comment represented a breakthrough in the company’s four-year wait for approval or wishful thinking.
The U.S. Grains Council, which promotes exports, said it hoped for confirmation of approval in the coming days.
Beijing might have a new incentive to accept MIR 162 corn from the United States because rival exporter Ukraine is struggling to honor grain contracts signed with China because of a shortage, traders said.
The price of corn-based U.S. distillers’ dried grain, a byproduct of ethanol refining, has jumped in the past month, in part on hopes that China will return to the market after halting imports because of MIR 162.
A representative of China’s embassy in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment.
Chinese approval of imports would represent “news that’s four years coming,” said Gary Martin, chief executive of the North American Export Grain Association.
“It should have been done in 2011 and something held it up,” he said in a telephone interview.
Global grain handlers Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co, along with dozens of U.S. farmers, have sued Syngenta for selling MIR 162 corn without obtaining import approval from China, a major buyer. They claim the company misled the farm industry about the timeline for approval.
Syngenta has said the lawsuits are baseless.
Some traders and farmers were skeptical about Syngenta’s expectation that China will approve MIR 162 soon. They felt tricked after Syngenta’s chief executive officer said during an April 2012 earnings call that he expected Beijing to clear the trait within days.
In April 2014, the National Grain and Feed Association estimated that rejections of shipments containing MIR 162 corn cost the U.S. agriculture industry at least $1 billion. The strain is approved for planting in the United States. (Additional reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Andre Grenon)