October 19, 2017 / 11:50 AM / 2 years ago

Vilmorin sees GMO maize opening in China in wake of Syngenta

* Expects policy shift after ChemChina-Syngenta deal

* CEO says could benefit from Syngenta GMO maize licence

* S.America among priorities for world’s No. 4 seed firm

PARIS, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Vilmorin expects China to end a ban on growing genetically modified crops after ChemChina’s takeover of Syngenta, potentially benefiting Vilmorin due to a maize licensing deal it has with Syngenta.

State-owned ChemChina completed the takeover of Swiss crop seed and chemical group Syngenta earlier this year, one of several multi-billion consolidation deals in an agricultural supplies sector strained by low crop prices.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are a sensitive issue in China, like in Europe. Beijing has not approved any varieties for cultivation and while it allows imports of GMO crops, the approval process can be lengthy.

“As long as China does not have its own technology, they will block GMOs (for cultivation),” Emmanuel Rougier, CEO of Vilmorin, said during a press presentation.

“My bet is that at some point GMOs will be authorised in China with Syngenta’s technology. The agreement that we signed with KWS and Syngenta two years ago gives us access to all Syngenta’s (GMO maize) technology. So if China opens up, we will be one of the few able to sell this technology.”

The 20-year deal signed with Syngenta gives Vilmorin and Germany’s KWS the right to use Syngenta’s GMO maize (corn) traits, both through their U.S. joint venture AgReliant and separately in other countries.

Vilmorin, the world’s fourth-largest seed maker, has a small presence in China, mainly focused on a joint venture in maize.

Syngenta has played down the transition to becoming part of a Chinese state enterprise, stressing it would remain a Swiss-based global company.

Among other large-scale acquisition deals, Bayer is trying to close its planned takeover of Monsanto/ Bayer agreed this month to sell seed and herbicide assets to fellow German group BASF to help gain regulatory approval for acquiring Monsanto.

Vilmorin has not considered bidding for any of the assets bought by BASF since they did not fit its strategy, Rougier said, estimating the deal would make BASF the world’s No. 6 seed maker by sales.

He declined to comment on whether Vilmorin was interested in Latin American seed activities that China’s COFCO International has reportedly put up for sale.

But he said Vilmorin would continue to consider acquisitions and that maize in South America was a priority.

Vilmorin announced on Wednesday a sharp rise in annual profits, citing continued strong margins for its vegetable seed business and a cost saving plan.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by Mark Heinrich

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