US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns has announced progress with China on key market access issues after meetings in Beijing with Chinese officials.

"Last year, US farmers and ranchers sold over $6bn 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."

In his first visit to China as Secretary of Agriculture, Johanns took part in the meeting of the US-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.

Johanns affirmed with Chinese officials the need for China to lift its ban on US beef, noting the critical need for China to adhere to a science-based system that includes following internationally recognized BSE guidelines. He urged the Chinese officials to send a technical team to the United States to help facilitate the timely re-opening of their market.

In response, China has pledged to send a technical team to the US in October of this year and will be working with USDA officials in the interim to provide more information on the timeline and process for reopening their market to US beef.

Johanns also announced the approval by China of NK603, a variety of Round Up Ready corn, bringing the total Chinese biotech approvals to eight varieties of corn, two of cotton, seven of canola and one variety of soybeans. Johanns commended the Chinese for these biotechnology approvals and noted the willingness of the US to work with China to promote a regulatory system based on sound science 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. US corn farmers will welcome the long-awaited Chinese approval of Round Up Ready corn, which is the result of science-based decision making."

Johanns and Minister Li Changjiang of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine reached an agreement on a memorandum of understanding to improve bilateral cooperation on animal and plant health and food safety.
"With this MOU, we will establish a vehicle to address the sanitary, phytosanitary and food safety issues that have hindered US agriculture's access to this important market," said Johanns. The MOU will provide a forum to seek resolution of bilateral technical food safety issues and promote scientific exchange to resolve technical barriers to trade, like meat, poultry and eggs and other food products under the regulatory authority of USDA.

This MOU will also provide for the exchanges of information on relevant laws; regulations and standards; inspection and quarantine procedures; methodology and technology; pests and disease; toxic and harmful residues; food certification and establishment registration.

Johanns now travels with US Trade Representative Rob Portman to Dalian, China to take part in a meeting with trade ministers from key members of the World Trade Organization  In addition to the WTO meetings, Johanns will also have bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea.