The market for the herbicide, glyphosate, manufactured in China has been gaining momentum over the years since Monsanto’s patent expired in September 2000, and is characterised by soaring prices and equally high profits for producers. Generic manufacturers of the broad-spectrum herbicide have sprung up across China, driven by the huge profits and increasing demand. First-half financial results for Chinese generic agrochemical companies in 2008 have been impressive, and glyphosate exports have surged. But the sudden fall in prices and the worry of supply outstripping global demand looming on the horizon means the glyphosate sector in China faces some major challenges in the months to come.
Glyphosate is the world’s largest-selling agrochemical, with annual sales amounting to an estimated $5,000 million. According to data from the Chinese agrochemical company, NAB International, there are 72 factories in China that possess glyphosate registration certificates, and around 40 large-scale manufacturers. China’s annual production capacity is estimated at between 500,000 tonnes and 600,000 tonnes, some 80% of which is exported. Of the major glyphosate manufacturers in China, Zhejiang Xin’an is the largest. It has a yearly production capacity of some 60,000 tonnes and an expected capacity of 80,000 tonnes by next year. Anhui Huaxing, with a production capacity of 30,000 tonnes per year, is also a major manufacturer, alongside Jiangshan Nantong, Sanonda and Zhejiang Jinfanda. Some 75% of Chinese glyphosate is manufactured from glycine and the remaining 25% using the intermediate, n-phosphonomethyl iminodiacetic acid (PMIDA).