China approved three types of Argentina's GM soybean for consumption, including the RR2BT seed resistant to herbicides, an official announcement said.
Agriculture ministers from the two countries met in Beijing to seal the accord but the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency's English-language website had no immediate comment on a deal that was celebrated in Buenos Aires as a breakthrough.
China is already a major importer of GM soybean, corn and other grain from Argentina and Brazil. The announcement was seen as a boost for Buenos Aires and GM seed giant Monsanto, which is facing problems in Europe, Japan and Korea over its GM wheat.
GM "contamination" is a fraught issue in most of Asia and Europe, but Argentina embraced GM cultivation of its major cash crops in 1996. The end result of that decision is hotly contested by groups arrayed against or in support of GM agriculture. Critics say GM crops are bad for Argentina in the long run.
More than 22 million hectares of Argentine farm land are dedicated to GM soybean, maize and cotton crops. Argentina earned more than $72 billion from those crops, pro-GM federation Croplife International said on its website, biotechbenefits.croplife.org.
Crops cultivated by Argentina include herbicide-tolerant soybean, insect-resistant and herbicide tolerant maize and cotton resistant to both insects and herbicides.
"This is one of the most important news of the past years for the country in terms of foreign trade," Argentine Agriculture Minister Norberto Yauhar declared after the outcome of his talks with Chinese counterpart Han Chang Fu was announced. The deal followed China's purchase of 60,000 tons of Argentine corn.
China's ties with Argentina and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean were going through "an excellent moment," Yauhar said.
Argentina is a major exporter of GM soy developed by Monsanto but the new deal clears the way for Chinese imports of GM corn. China is already a major buyer of Argentine agricultural goods and last year's bilateral trade data, showing a $14.5 billion turnover, is set to grow.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been seeking ways to prevent China from flooding Argentine consumer markets, with moderate success so far. Analysts say China is playing a "long game" and has been patiently building ties with Argentina and other countries in Latin America as part of a long-term strategy to secure food and energy supplies.
Last month, Fernandez was host to Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, who told her China "stands ready to join hands with Argentina to maintain high-level contact, formulate a common action plan, establish a dialogue mechanism between economic agencies of the two countries, promote the steady and healthy development of trade and mutual investment, strengthen cooperation in finance to achieve common development and win-win results," Xinhua reported.
The two sides have been working on the establishment of a China-Latin America forum to push for all-around cooperation, Li said.