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Syngenta looks ahead after ChemChina deal

With backing from new owner, Swiss firm looks to boost sales to China

by Melody M. Bomgardner
June 28, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 27

A Syngenta headquarters sign and buildings in Basel, Switzerland.
Credit: Syngenta
Syngenta’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland

ChemChina has completed its acquisition of the Swiss crop protection and seeds company Syngenta. The purchase is the largest acquisition ever made by a Chinese firm, the companies claim.

The $43 billion deal was revealed in February 2016, soon after the merger of agriculture and chemicals giants Dow Chemical and DuPont was announced.

Syngenta will retain operational independence, according to Ren Jianxin, ChemChina’s chairperson. Jianxin was elected head of Syngenta’s board of directors at a June 26 meeting of Syngenta’s shareholders.

Syngenta says it aims to grow its market share and profits through higher sales, more collaborations, and acquisitions that will strengthen its number three position in the global seeds business. The firm will increase investments in yield-improving crops, digital agriculture, and technology that saves water and CO2 emissions.

Syngenta also says its wants to expand sales in emerging markets, particularly China. However, the country’s farmers have not embraced genetically engineered crops on a large scale, with the exception of insect-resistant cotton.

As in Europe, and to a lesser extent the U.S., Chinese consumers are concerned about the safety of genetically modified organisms. China has been slow to approve imports of genetically modified crops, many of which are developed and sold by U.S. firms.

Indeed, delays in Chinese approvals have caused significant problems for Syngenta. Last week, a Federal jury in Kansas awarded $218 million in a class action lawsuit to 7,000 U.S. farmers who claimed their corn exports were refused by China in 2013 when the country detected an unapproved trait sold by Syngenta.

The trait, called Viptera, was introduced in two Syngenta corn varieties to make them resistant to Lepidoptera insects, including earworms, cutworms, armyworms, and corn borers. The new trait was approved for U.S. cultivation in 2010 but was not approved by China until 2014.

Syngenta says it will appeal the verdict. The case is the first of eight similar class action suits. In total, U.S. corn growers claim their loss of the Chinese market cost them in excess of $5 billion.



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