China to become world's top farm products importer: researcher

BEIJING Sun Nov 6, 2011 10:58pm EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will become the world's largest importer of agriculture products in 5 to 10 years as the country faces from shrinking farmland and other constraints on production, a top government think-tank researcher was cited by local media as saying.

Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, or the cabinet, did not elaborate on which kind of farm products China has to import. China is already the world's top importer of soy and cotton.

The country's agriculture faces challenges that include small-scale production, per-capita acreage that is less than 40 percent of the world's average, underdeveloped organizational structure as well as little scientific and technological support, he said.

The Beijing Times (here) reported on Cheng's remarks.

China, the world's second-largest consumer of corn and top consumer of pork as well as a major consumer of sugar, has already increased imports of these commodities this year as domestic production falls behind fast growing demand.

China has said it aims to remain largely self-sufficient in grains over the next five years.

To cope with the country's rapidly growing demand for farm products, the country's top state-owned trading house, COFCO Co. Ltd., will spend more than $10 billion to fund overseas mergers and acquisitions in the next five years, the China Daily reported last week.

"Because of the nation's limited agricultural resources, we have to look overseas," the paper cited Jiang Hua, a board member, as saying. "The next 10 years will be a period of fast growth in China's consumption of foodstuffs, including poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products."

The paper said COFCO will focus on acquisitions of companies in a number of major exporting countries, including the United States, Australia and Southeast Asia.

"We expect that the Chinese government could provide supportive measures for companies aspiring to invest overseas, including COFCO, to become more involved in the global competition," Jiang was cited as saying.

COFCO in July bought a 99 percent stake of the Australian sugar company Tully Sugar. In 2008, it purchased a 4.95 percent stake in Smithfield Foods Inc, the largest U.S. pork and hog producer.

(Reporting by Niu Shuping and Ken Wills)

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