U.S. herbicide maker battles Chinese imports

Herbicide imports from China have caused a dispute between a U.S. pesticide company and overseas manufacturers of sulfentrazone.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on March 26, 2014 9:22AM

A U.S. pesticide manufacturer wants to stop sales of a cheaper Chinese version of its popular herbicide.

FMC Corp. has asked the federal government for an “exclusion order” against imports of sulfentrazone produced by Chinese chemical firms.

The company also wants the U.S. International Trade Commission to issue “cease and desist” orders to prevent distributors from selling the product domestically.

On a parallel track, FMC is pursuing federal litigation against the importer of the Chinese herbicide, Summit Agro USA.

Sulfentrazone is used to kill broadleaf weeds in numerous crops and is sold under FMC’s Spartan, Authority, Zeus, BroadAxe, Blindside, Echelon, Dismiss and Solitare brands.

FMC Corp. said that it invented the herbicide and has traditionally been the only U.S. supplier of the product, with yearly sales “in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The U.S. manufacturer claims that its market share is now threatened because Chinese firms are selling sulfentrazone under the Blanket brand for prices 40-50 percent below FMC’s.

“Respondents have already targeted FMC’s largest and most intimate distributor, through which respondents now sell their competing, highly-discounted accused products,” according to a complaint filed with USITC.

The distributor in question is Tenkoz, with which FMC shares confidential information during “crystal ball” discussions about market growth, the complaint said.

“We’re going to leave it to the courts to decide,” said Mark Ripato, vice president of Tenkoz.

He said the company will abide by any court rulings in the dispute and referred questions to Summit Agro USA, which Capital Press was unable to reach for comment.

Apart from cutting into sales, the competing herbicide may tarnish FMC’s reputation, the company claims.

Chinese producers have instructed U.S. farmers to blend their version of the herbicide with other chemicals as a replacement for FMC’s pre-mixed products, the complaint said.

This “relatively uncontrolled tank-mixing strategy” could reduce the product’s efficacy or lead to weed resistance, for which FMC may take the blame, the company alleged.

FMC claims the Chinese producers are making the sulfentrazone with a process that is under patent protection until 2023.

The herbicide can be manufactured with a different method for which FMC’s patent has already expired.

However, that process involves the removal of byproducts and hazardous chemical catalysts that render the final product more expensive, FMC said.

The Chinese firms could sell the herbicide made with the older technique in the U.S. but have preferred to infringe the patent, the company said.

“Respondents are using FMC’s patented process without authorization and without paying for it, which enables them to price their products significantly below FMC’s prices,” according to the complaint.


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