China's food supply gap shouldn’t be misread

By Li Guoxiang Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/18 19:19:19

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

After China's leading government think tank the China Academy of Social Sciences published its Rural Development Report (2020) on Monday, a number of media outlets have misread the "food supply gap" it mentions. In actual fact, an appropriate domestic supply gap can be made up by imports and has no impact on food security.

China is expected to have a food supply gap of about 130 million tons by the end of 2025, according to the annual report. The line was picked up on by some media and inappropriately linked to China's industrialization and urbanization progress.

Such reports create a false impression: due to a rapid growth in China's urban population as a result of development, urbanization and industrialization, China may well have food supply problems by the end of 2025.

However, China's food self-sufficiency rate has remained at a relatively high level, and so has no impact on food security. From the perspective of international trade, China's food imports are neither too many as claimed by some countries, nor too little as slammed by others.

China's current domestic food supply gap has remained stable at range of 100-150 million tons, including 80-90 million tons of soybeans, and tens of millions of tons of grain. China doesn't have a food security problem, and imports are also a means of ensuring food security. China's national food security strategy takes a moderate number of imports into account.

Compared with other countries, China's grain imports are maintained at a reasonable level. China's annual food production totals about 700 million tons. With 130 million tons of imports, the self-sufficiency rate is still high and remains stable. The domestic self-sufficiency rate of the three major grains: rice, wheat, and corn is as high as 97 percent on average, and there is no import dependence. To put these numbers in perspective, Japan's food self-sufficiency rate is only 40 percent, and more than 60 percent of its food needs to be imported each year. Therefore, from the perspective of domestic supply security, it's hard to see a problem with China's food supply or food security.

From the perspective of international trade too, China maintains a certain level of food imports, keeps its market open, does not engage in trade protectionism, and maintains that an appropriate amount of agricultural imports is necessary for the development of international trade. 

While China's rapid economic development has improved people's living standards at home, it has also provided opportunities for many countries to export their own agricultural products, allowing more countries to share the fruits of China's economic development.

The US is the world's largest agricultural exporter. American farmers are concerned that China does not import enough agricultural products from the US. Despite the severe impact of the global pandemic this year, China is still fulfilling its side of the phase one trade deal with the US to increase agricultural product imports.

However, thanks to the attempts at decoupling and protectionism of the Trump administration, tensions are spiraling between China and the US. It is China's commitment to the trade deal that makes trade one of the most stable aspects of the two countries' bilateral relations.

It's also worth noting that China imports 130 million tons of food, which is not a large proportion of the world's total grain output. It is estimated that by the end of 2025, the world's grain trade volume - including soybeans and grains - will be about 600 million tons: in other words, China's import volume will pose no threat to world food security either.

The author is a research fellow on agriculture at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He participated in the drafting of China's Rural Development Report (2020).


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