(Corrects first paragraph to show official spoke only on import
curbs, not targets)
By Niu Shuping and David Stanway
BEIJING Feb 1 China will impose no further
curbs on food imports this year, a top agriculture official said
on Friday, even after foreign supplies hit a record 12 percent
of total demand in 2012, putting the country's self-sufficiency
targets in doubt.
China's decision to hold large stockpiles of key farm
products has provided strong support for domestic prices, but
also pushed buyers to look overseas for cheaper supplies.
Imports at 12 percent of food supplies in 2012 far outstripped
a guideline of 5 percent set in China's five-year farm plan.
Many in the industry were predicting that quotas would be
cut in 2013 to stem cheap foreign supplies, but Chen Xiwen,
director of the Chinese Communist Party's top policy making body
for rural affairs, said imports would continue to play an
important supplementary role in the market.
"We should use both international and domestic markets to
ensure farm product supplies and we should not go back to
closing the gates," said Chen, speaking at a news conference.
State-owned commodity trading companies are still waiting
for China to announce its import quotas for the year.
China's efforts to produce enough to feed an increasingly
affluent population of 1.3 billion people have become a growing
concern for the global grains market, as any spike in its
imports could cause global supply shocks.
To calm markets, Chinese officials have stressed that its
import volumes remain just a tiny proportion of total
consumption. Chen said China's rice imports amounted to just 1
percent of total domestic demand.
While imports of agricultural products rose strongly in
2012, with corn and rice at a record high, Chen said the surge
was largely driven by cheaper international prices and not due
to a domestic shortage.
"Grain imports will fluctuate, but the total volume will not
change too much. There is a big potential for China to boost its
production yields," said Tang Renjian, deputy director of the
Central Leading Group for Rural Work.
"The 95-percent self-sufficiency target will remain for
quite a long time," said Tang, speaking at the same press
The self-sufficiency target did not include soybeans, he
said. Last year, China's imports of soybeans amounted to around
60 percent of total global trade, and met more than 80 percent
of domestic demand.
The relocation to the cities of more than 200 million
migrant workers in the last three decades has slashed the rural
workforce and boosted food demand.
The government has listed grain security and farm product
supply as leading priorities for 2013, with Beijing pledging to
speed the transfer of rural land to promote large-scale
Pulling small plots of land into larger operations and
introducing modern mechanical techniques would help boost
productivity and is vital if China's farm sector is to meet
soaring domestic demand.
But efforts to modernise the sector so far have struggled to
gain traction because many farmers are suspicious about giving
up their land, and even for some mechanised farms, there are too
(Writing by Fayen Wong; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)