China’s purchases of US farm products reflect consumer demand, not US pressure

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/22 23:18:39

On Monday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that China will purchase from US farmers as much as they can produce. China is likely to step up imports of US agricultural products following bilateral trade talks,  but that reflects China's own market demand rather than the country's bowing to US pressure.

In recent years, Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed efforts to expand the nation's imports from its trade partners, including the US. Farm products have long been a bright spot in China's import growth. Chinese customs data showed that imports of agricultural products exceeded $120 billion in 2017, up 12 percent from a year earlier.

China's effort to buy more US agricultural products is not a political compromise to help ease bilateral tensions but normal behavior for a major consumer of agricultural and food products. China will most likely be willing to buy "massive amounts" of US agricultural products, but these purchases will be arranged based on market demand.

In China, a growing army of middle-class consumers is driving demand for everything, especially luxury goods and high-quality food. During this year's Spring Festival holiday, sales of imported fresh food via online retailer Tmall rose about four times from last year's holiday. One big reason: China's growing middle-class population increasingly indulges in lighter, healthier foods to enjoy a higher quality of life.

The US offers a variety of high-quality agricultural products, so the two countries have large potential for economic cooperation through China's stepped-up imports of US farm products. But that's not 100 percent guaranteed, and agricultural products are facing increasingly intense competition in the Chinese market from products imported from European countries, Australia, Canada, Brazil and other nations which are equally good.

It won't be easy for US exporters to keep an advantage against their competitors in quality. But quality, instead of Washington's pressure, will be the key in determining whether the US will see rapid growth in farm exports.

Chinese customs announced earlier this month that it would step up quarantine checks on imports of apples and logs from the US after Neofabraea perennans and other pests were detected. China will continue to take normal measures, quarantine checks included, to safeguard food safety even though the country has indicated its intentions to step up US food imports. China can hardly buy as much as US farmers can produce - it can only purchase as much Chinese consumers require, subject to requirements imposed by China for market access.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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