Why not buy rice from Southeast Asian countries?

By Wei Jianguo Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/9 22:03:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Recently, the countries alongside the Belt and Road, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Pakistan, have entered the harvest season for long-grain rice and high-end glutinous rice. Thousands of farmers in these countries hope that China, the biggest market for rice, can import more high-quality rice this year.

For historical reasons, once food imports, especially rice imports, are mentioned, it will immediately spark heated debate. Some people think with its large population, China should make food security the priority and be self-sufficient in food supply. Both the southern and northern regions should obey this rule. If imports are necessary, only small amounts and rare types should be allowed.

Others believe that in face of the globalization, China should proceed to moderately import some foreign high-quality agricultural products to satisfy domestic demand as well as aid the industrial development of neighboring countries. I agree with this position.

First, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's grain acreage in 2016 was 0.3 percent less than the previous year, with a total output of 616 million tons, an 0.8 percent decrease compared to the previous year. In the situation of a slowdown in domestic food production, we should increase imports to enrich the domestic food supply.

Second, with the improvement of people's living standards, the demand for high-end glutinous rice and indica rice including fragrant rice is growing, while these species are in short domestically. Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia enjoy adequate sunshine and abundant rainfall all year round. Thus in these regions, indica rice can yield harvests three times a year. Opening up this import channel can provide extra protection for food security in our country.

We can make full use of our advantages in capital and technology to invest in the rice industry in the countries along the Belt and Road. This can upgrade the rice industry in these countries and steadily improve the quality and production of high-quality rice. In addition to giving guidance on drying, processing and warehousing, China will also be able to improve rice varieties and teach scientific farming methods so that the other nations' own industrial advantages can be improved and their economy can be boosted. In 2016 China's rice imports reached 3.53 million tons, increasing by 5.49 percent from a year ago. In my opinion, more rice can be imported, benefiting economic integration and development.

Some people may ask whether rice imports would hurt our own farmers. To address these concerns, we could give appropriate price protection to balance the market. Imported Thai rice and Japanese rice is generally more expensive than domestic rice, and the price of some products is higher than 100 yuan ($15) per kilogram, which creates a built-in price gap between domestic products and imported rice. In the future we will import more high-end rice and indica rice which is rare domestically, and put limitations on importing low-end, ordinary rice. When it comes to rice imports, some people may think of the corruption related to rice transactions in some countries. However, this won't impact our attitude to rice imports, because we have the confidence to trade rice in a just, legal and open environment.

From the global perspective, we can explore more possibilities. If trading rice goes smoothly, can we also trade wheat, barley, corn, cotton, sesame seeds, peanuts, potatoes and other agricultural products? If we can exchange agricultural products, what about seafood and forest products? In terms of countries, I think we may also enlarge the areas of cooperation to Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, the South Pacific, the US and Europe.

In conclusion, when globalization is blocked by protectionism from some countries, coordinating domestic and international markets and solving problems brought by global market demand changes is becoming more and more important. While building a safe domestic granary, we should also prioritize our partners' mutual interests and establish a larger community bound by common interest. This will be the win-win approach we should follow.

The author is executive deputy director of China Center for International Economic Exchanges. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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