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China staples

Authorities move to ease concerns over alarming cereal import growth

By RJ Whitehead , 21-Jan-2013
Last updated on 21-Jan-2013 at 07:11 GMT

Following a dramatic rise in cereal imports last year, Chinese authorities have stepped in to assure concerned industry watchers that all is well.

Official figures published by the customs department revelaed that China imported around 14m tonnes of cereals in 2012, a figure that is up 157% over the previous year. And statistics from the US Department of Agriculture also indicate a significant spike in rice imports alone, which have seen a near fourfold increase over 2011’s total of around 575,000 tonnes. 

Market watchers expect China’s rice imports to remain high this year at around 2m tonnes after last year’s total in excess of 2.5m tonnes.

These substantial rice imports come at a time when the country’s rice production is seeing sustained growth. Last year saw an increase of 2% to an estimated 140m tonnes, adding to speculation that agricultural authorities were concerned about China’s food security, or that they were hoarding staples in preparation for possible military conflict.

Ministry speaks

However, a spokesman from Mofcom, China’s commerce ministry, told reporters that the substantial growth in cereal imports should be taken in the context of a reduction in global prices. Laughing off speculation, he added: “The import of agricultural products has surged—that’s true—but to say that China threatens the world’s food security or that China faces an issue of food security is groundless.”

Global wheat prices declined by up to 10% during some periods last year, while the cost of rice tumbled by as much as 26.5% in 2012. Because of these falls, Mofcom suggested that the country had been bargain hunting by buying cheap when possible. 

The Mofcom spokesman also said that the increase in cereal imports would not pose any threat to global food security because corn and rice imports in the first 11 months of 2012 was less than 50% of the quota allotted by the regulator.

Pork prices on the up

Meanwhile, the cost of pork in China has risen more than 10% over the last two months, according to the Xinhua news agency’s price system on national farm produce.

The increase comes on the back of the coldest winter in 28 years, which has affected the production and transportation of farm produce.

All provinces, regions and municipalities saw price rises, except for Hainan. Shandong led the way with an 18.2% increase in pork prices. Shanxi, Liaoning, Henan, Hubei and Shaanxi saw rises of more than 15%.

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