(Adds comments from Vilsack, U.S. trade negotiator)
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A top Chinese government official said the country has approved imports of genetically modified Agrisure Viptera corn and two varieties of biotech soybeans after years of review, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said imports of Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, had been approved by China's Ministry of Agriculture, Vilsack told reporters at a U.S.-China trade forum in Chicago. The ministry also approved imports of biotech soybeans developed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience, he added. Vilsack said he did not know the names of the soybean varieties.
"He just simply said the ministry of agriculture has approved these events," Vilsack said of China's vice premier.
Vilsack spoke with Wang Yang at the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, and said it was not unusual for Beijing to take action ahead of the forum.
However, the import approvals do not represent a loosening of China's sluggish regulatory review process for GMO crops, Vilsack said.
"Their system is what it is," he said of China's review process. "You get approvals sometimes, and sometimes you don't."
Approval of MIR 162 corn is significant because U.S. corn trading with China has essentially shut down since Beijing began turning away cargoes containing the Syngenta AG strain in November 2013. It was approved for planting in the United States but not for import by China.
Commodities traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co, along with dozens of farmers, have sued Syngenta over MIR 162, claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from the trade disruptions in China, a major importer.
Seed makers like Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences complain that China's review process hurts their ability to launch new products because it is not predictable and does not always rely on science.
Syngenta, DuPont and Bayer are waiting for official notice of the new import approvals from China, said Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the United States Trade Representative.
"We think this is very welcome news," she said in an interview.
Representatives of Syngenta, DuPont and Bayer did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.
China's Agriculture Ministry has declined to comment on approval for MIR 162. [ID::nL1N0U01AZ]
Bayer has been waiting seven years for China to approve a new soybean seed called LL55 and has delayed starting sales in the United States while waiting for China's clearance.
Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Chris Reese, Chizu Nomiyama and Diane Craft