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China: Agricultural Trade
Country Study > Chapter 6 > Agriculture > Agricultural Trade

AGRICULTURAL TRADE


Since 1949 agricultural exports for most years have exceeded agricultural imports. China's officials have used this export surplus as an important source for financing the importation of high-priority industrial items. Agricultural exports have risen through the years but have not grown as fast as industrial exports. In 1970, for example, agricultural exports accounted for 45 percent of total exports, but in 1985 China's US$6.5 billion in agricultural exports was only 20 percent of the total exports.

In the 1970s agricultural imports accounted for about 30 percent of total imports. For example, of the US$7.1 billion worth of products imported in 1977, US$2.1 billion (30 percent) were agricultural products. In 1985 US$4.7 billion worth of agricultural products were imported, which was only 5 percent of the US$42.8 billion of total imports. The ratio of agricultural imports to other imports was expected to rise in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Wheat has been imported nearly every year since the early 1950s. These imports averaged about 5 million tons in the 1960s and 1970s but rose to a peak of more than 13 million tons in 1982. Wheat imports fell as wheat output expanded rapidly, so that by 1985 imports fell to just under 5.5 million tons. Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, and the United States have been major sources of China's wheat imports.

China is one of the world's largest rice exporters, annually shipping out about 1 million tons. Rice exports go primarily to Asian and East European countries and to Cuba.

China is both an importer and an exporter of coarse grains. Up to 1984 sorghum, millet, and corn exports usually totaled only several hundred thousand tons but reached a peak of over 5 million tons in 1985, in the early 1970s, and at the end of the 1970s, when corn imports hit a peak of 3.6 million tons. Major coarse grain suppliers include Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Thailand, and the United States.

Soybeans have been a major foreign exchange earner for most of this century. Static production and rising domestic demand for soybeans and soybean products meant a decline in exports until the early 1980s. For example, in 1981 Argentina and the United States shipped more than 500,000 tons of soybeans to China; these two countries and Brazil also exported soybean oil to China. Domestic production expanded in the early 1980s, however, and by 1985 soybean imports fell and exports exceeded 1 million tons. Also in the early 1980s, China began to ship soybean meal to Asian markets.

Before 1983 China was one of the world's largest importers of raw cotton. These imports averaged around 100,000 tons annually but climbed to a peak of nearly 900,000 tons in 1980. A dramatic increase in domestic cotton production filled domestic demand, and exports exceeded imports in 1983. In 1985 China shipped nearly 500,000 tons of raw cotton to Asian and European markets.

Sugar imports to China come primarily from Australia, Cuba, the Philippines, and Thailand. Quantities imported climbed steadily from 100,000 tons in 1955 to 500,000 tons in the mid-1970s and continued to rise dramatically to a peak of more than 2 million tons in 1985.

In addition to the commodities just noted, China also exports a host of other products from its vast agricultural resources. Large quantities of live animals, meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits are shipped to Asian markets. Tea, spices, and essential oils are shipped to major international markets. China also exports animal products, such as hog bristles, fur, and other animal products.

Agricultural trade remains an important component of China's general agricultural modernization effort. China is likely to continue to import grain and other agricultural products for the foreseeable future. These imports would be used to maintain or improve living standards, especially in urban areas. In rural areas, imports help reduce the pressure for more procurement, freeing resources for increased consumption or investment in local agricultural programs.

In the long run, China may reduce the expenditure of foreign exchange needed to finance agricultural imports. These expenditures reduce the amount of other imports that can be used for modernization and investment in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy. Success in reducing agricultural imports will eventually depend on the development of domestic sources of supply, for which China hopes to rely in part on new production bases for marketable crops. Pressure for increased consumption is likely to continue. The increase in population and the need for more agricultural goods (including grain, industrial crops, and grain-consuming livestock) to support higher real incomes both in urban areas and in the new agricultural base areas will continue to be factors creating this pressure.

Useful general works on China's agricultural sector include Dwight H. Perkins' Agricultural Development in China 1368-1968; Randolph Barker, Radha Sinha, and Beth Rose's The Chinese Agricultural Economy; and Nicholas R. Lardy's Agriculture in China's Modern Economic Development. Since 1981 China's State Statistical Bureau has published data on the agricultural sector in annual statistical yearbooks. More detailed statistics, summary information, and policy statements are published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fishery in its Nongye Nianjian (Agricultural Yearbook). The China Daily, printed in English and published in China, contains important data and policy statements. Thousands of Chinese-language books on agricultural topics, and newspapers such as Zhongguo Nongbao (China Agriculture), are available by purchase or subscription. The China Quarterly, published in London, frequently contains articles on Chinese agriculture by foreign observers. The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China has published several interesting trip reports by United States agricultural delegations.

The United States government also publishes information and analysis concerning China. The Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress periodically publishes a volume on China's economy; the 1986 edition is entitled China's Economy Looks Toward the Year 2000. Each year the United States Department of Agriculture publishes China: Situation and Outlook Report, which reviews China's agricultural production and trade for the past year and provides an outlook for the coming year. The department also publishes monthly forecasts of production and trade and prepares specialized reports on various topics. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of July 1987




Last Updated: July 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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