WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - U.S. officials are monitoring Chinese rejections of American corn shipments, which have helped drive down commodity prices, and have urged China to act promptly to approve genetically modified strains of corn, the U.S. Trade Representative's office says.
At least three shiploads of U.S. corn have been rejected by China's quarantine authority in the past month on the grounds that they included an unapproved biotech variety produced by Syngenta AG known as MIR 162.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office "is closely following this issue," said a spokeswoman in a statement issued on the weekend.
"We have raised concerns with Chinese officials regarding increasing delays in the approval process for biotech events. Our expectation is that biotech approvals will be handled in a timely and predictable manner, through a transparent, science-based process," the spokeswoman said.
Corn futures fell to near a two-week low on Monday because of concern about disruptions in U.S. sales to China, the No. 2 market for U.S. farm exports.
The Syngenta variety was created to resist damaging insects including earworms, cutworms and armyworms. It has been approved for import by many major corn importing nations but has awaited approval by China for more than two years.
U.S. Agriculture Department officials had no immediate comment on Monday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was scheduled to travel to Beijing with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman for Sino-U.S. trade consultations on Thursday and Friday.
The high-level talks are the culmination of a year of activity by working groups that focus on trade issues in such areas as medicines, computers, agriculture and intellectual property rights.
After three years as the top market for U.S. farm exports, China is forecast to fall slightly behind Canada as the top buyer in the current trade year. USDA estimates farm exports to China will total $21.5 billion in fiscal 2014, down from $23.5 billion the year before.
China will buy more soybeans and sorghum, but less wheat for livestock feed and less cotton than in the past year, the USDA said in a Dec. 2 report on agricultural exports.
While the rejected shipments roiled the market, U.S. corn sales continue at a high volume. Exporters shipped 370,700 tonnes of corn to China in the week ended Dec. 5 - the most recent week in USDA's reporting system - and 587,900 tonnes in the preceding week.