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China buys first US soybeans under new GMO rules

WASHINGTON, May 2 (Reuters) - China waded back into the U.S. soy market for the first time since adopting controversial rules in March that require labels on bioengineered food imports, buying 78,000 tonnes of American soybeans, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Thursday.
The United States, the world's biggest soybean grower, lost an estimated $180 million in business after China issued vague rules on genetically modified organisms (GMO), causing soybean orders to grind to a halt.
In March, Washington and Beijing reached a compromise under which China agreed to temporarily ease some restrictions and to speed up approval of applications from exporters for certificates attesting to the safety of their transgenic foods.
In its weekly export sales report for the week ending April 25, USDA said China bought 78,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans for the 2001/02 marketing year. This is Beijing's first U.S. soybean purchase since the new GMO rules took effect on March 20.
China has been the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans, of which 70 percent are now bioengineered.
Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures prices were mixed on Thursday despite China's purchase. CBOT soybeans for July delivery closed down 3/4 cent at $4.63-1/2 per bushel.
U.S. soybean groups welcomed Beijing's purchase but hesitated to declare the complete resumption of Sino-U.S. soy trade, which is worth about $1 billion a year.
"We certainly hope this is a trend that will continue," said Gil Griffis, director of Asian sales for the American Soybean Association.
He said industry groups were wary of China's request to conduct field tests on biotech seeds from U.S. agriculture companies, like Monsanto Co. , in order to complete its food safety evaluation.
U.S. soybean farmers were also unsure whether Beijing's regulations on labeling GMO products covered soy products.
China's purchase comes amid trade speculation that turmoil in Argentina and the poor quality of some Brazilian new-crop beans would spur an earlier-than-expected return of China to U.S. markets, despite a cheaper South American new crop harvest coming to market. Asian commodity traders had speculated that China could run out of soybeans in May because of the new import controls.