General Trade Summary
U.S. planting seed exports during the July-April period totaled 1,023,652 metric tons (exceeding 1.0 million tons for the first time ever) valued at $801.0 million, increases of 76 and 27 percent, respectively, over the same period last year. Imports for the period reached 193,444 tons valued at $305.8 million.
Two seedkinds exceeded the $100 million level in exports, field corn and soybean seed. These two dominate the export trade, reaching $253.1 million or 32 percent of total exports. On the import side, one seedkind is dominant, field corn seed at $74.8 or 24 percent of total imports. Flower seed comes in a distant second in at $46.7 million.
Mexico continued as the best export market for planting seeds, having reached 345,776 tons and $175.2 million, up 83 and 48 percent, respectively, from a year earlier. Three other export markets, Japan, Canada, and Italy are poised to possibly reach the $100 million level.
Canada led suppliers of planting seeds to the United States, shipping 114,958 tons, valued at $83.1 million, increases of 3 and 16 percent, respectively. Once accounting for 40 to 60 percent of the U.S. import market, Canada's dominance has been steadily eroded by off season suppliers such as Chile.
Trade Outlook with Japan
Exports by value to Japan may top $100 million this year but a problem has developed which has already depressed U.S. exports of one seedkind. Japan's outbreaks of E. Coli illnesses and its inability to identify the source of the outbreaks is depressing U.S. exports of radish seeds to that market.
In late summer 1996, an outbreak of E Coli O:157 occurred in Japan. A variety of domestic and foreign agricultural products were scrutinized as possible origins of the deadly outbreak -- including fresh vegetables, meat products and radish seed. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) identified U.S. radish seeds as a possible source of the problem. Subsequent laboratory testing (both in Japan and the United States) of samples from the U.S. radish seed lot revealed no contamination. No credible source of contamination has yet been determined.
In February of this year, the first of several more scattered outbreaks occurred. Again, MHW strongly implicated U.S. radish seed. Four official U.S. regulatory or research entities joined the MHW to carefully test the radish seed. While the Japanese press continued to publish numerous articles quoting MHW allegations and portraying U.S. radish seed as the source, U.S. authorities have concluded there is no basis for attributing the outbreak to U.S. seed. MHW remains publicly committed to 100 percent testing of the remaining several hundred kilograms of radish seed remaining in Japan.
U.S. radish seed exports to Japan have declined. Current data show radish seed is behind in volume from the same period a year ago; 522 tons compared to 1,168. The cumulative data in this report marks the end of major shipping season for 1997 crops. Contracts for seed for the 1998 crops are now being negotiated. The U.S. seed trade is very concerned that the damage already experienced by radish seeds may be extended to other seedkinds in the upcoming marketing year.
Following are excerpts from U.S. Agricultural Attache reports recently received in FAS/Washington. Copies of the complete reports may be obtained by contacting the Cotton, Oilseeds, Tobacco, and Seeds Division at the address, telephone or Fax number listed above.
Bulgaria (Report number BU7025): Overall demand for planting seeds is expected to increase in 1997. The liberalization of agricultural prices and the trade regime in July are expected to have a great impact on seed consumption in the second half of 1997 while price stability and control of inflation are seen as the primary factors in the first half of the year. Parliament approved the Law on the Protection of New Plant Varieties and Animal Breeds (October 1996) and Regulations for the Licensing of Production and Trade Entities of Seeds and Planting Materials (May 1997). The changes are expected to play an important role in the seeds' sector and are especially favorable to foreign seed suppliers for protecting their copyrights and legal interests.
Philippines (Report number RP7015): Under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the World Trade Organization Agreement, the Philippines should have an effective Plant Variety Protection System by January 1, 2000. According to industry sources, the Philippine Plant Variety Protection Act (House Bill 7951; Senate Bill 1777) is tailored after the UPOV (Union for the Protection of Varieties of Plants) Convention of 1978 with an added requirement covering genetically modified organisms (GMO's). The bill requires an Environmental Impact Assessment for GMO varieties to be eligible for protection under the law.
For more information contact Loyd Coonrod, Cotton, Tobacco and Seeds Division, FAS at (202) 720-9491.