China must take the initiative for security of its grain imports

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Fields dedicated to the sustainable, combined cultivation model for rice and black-spotted frogs in Changxing county, Huzhou, Zhejiang province, are watered by a mechanized sprinkler irrigation system. CHINA DAILY

China is the world’s largest grain consumer, and although its own grain output has remained above 650 million tons for nine consecutive years, its food consumption has seen rigid growth, and food supply and demand have been in a tight balance for a long time. Moderate imports can effectively make up for the structural shortage of the country’s domestic grain supply. This explains why strengthening international food security cooperation has been enshrined in the Food Security Law as an institutional arrangement for ensuring food security in China.

Over the years, China has strengthened its voice and bargaining power in the international food trade by diversifying its grain imports and expanding its import sources. On the basis of ensuring basic self-sufficiency in its grain supply and its absolute food security, China has adopted a global perspective in regard to its grain imports, injecting vitality into the sluggish world economy.

China imported 162 million metric tons of grains in 2023, an increase of 11.7 percent on the amount in 2022. “Chinese demand” for grain imports can influence the flow of global food trade to a certain extent, but it still cannot influence international food prices. The fall in international food prices in 2023 is the result of a combination of factors such as lower-than-expected global economic recovery, declining food demand and aggressive interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve. As the world’s largest grain exporter, the United States controls more than half of the world’s grain market, and through international market regulation, data release and guidance of expectations, firmly dominates global grain supply and the pricing of the international grain trade.

China’s domestic grain production is characterized by high costs and high prices, and thus it is at a disadvantage in the international grain trade. In order to protect domestic grain production from the impact of low-priced imports, China has implemented an import quota management system for major grains to prevent a large amount of food imports having adverse effects on the domestic food sector.

In the context of its greater efforts to promote wider opening-up, China should try to raise its international grain competitiveness and pricing power. It also needs to make good use of international food resources and the import tariff and quota management policy, well handle the scale and pace of its grain imports, and closely follow dynamic changes in the grain markets at home and abroad, taking possible timely measures in response.

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