GROWTH in food imports is a long-term trend in China as the nation further integrates itself into global trade and becomes wealthier, Chinese economists said.
But China is not a hungry nation facing a food crisis, they added.
China logged an agricultural trade deficit in the year's first seven months, importing US$4.49bil (RM17bil) more than it exported, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The nation saw an annual average agricultural trade surplus of US$4.3bil (RM16.3bil) between 1995 and last year.
It is too early to conclude whether the agricultural trade deficit will run for the whole year or the coming years, said Xu Hongyuan, director of the agricultural trade sector under the ministry's International Co-operation Department.
But given China's World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession, it is a general trend that we will meet our own food demands by making good use of international markets, said Xu.
The deficit is not surprising. It is a rational choice for China to import more land-intensive agricultural products, such as high quality wheat, in which China is not competitive, by using its rich foreign exchange reserve, said Li Weimin, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Agricultural Economics under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Given China's low per capita farmland and water resources, Li said it is even economical for China to import such products at favourable prices.
But the key for China is to have diverse sources of imports and to forge long-term contracts with these grain producing countries, rather than just rely on one or two countries. China Daily