Thursday, July 07, 2011

China goes nutty

World supply and demand patterns for food are being affected by the development of a prosperous middle class, not least in China. Such developments provide challenges, but also opportunities for food producers and exporters. Moreover, in a market economy, production substitution can occur.

In China an appetite for healthier living has stoked demand for nuts, sending prices of cashews and other snacks to record levels. The trading price for cashew kernels is up more than 60 per cent from a year ago, walnuts are up 43 per cent and pecan kernels are up 38 per cent.

The Chinese have always enjoyed nuts, but the recent boom reflects a growing awareness of their health benefits. They are rich in vitamin E, oils and proteins. Walnuts are considered good for the kidney and the brain. In a country where traditional forms of medicine remain strong, recent news reports that pistachios prevent prostate cancer has triggered a rush for the nuts.

China used to be a net exporter of walnuts but is now a net importer. Imports from California doubled last year, making a small dent in the US trade deficit. Product substiution seems likely to occur with almonds, which are cheaper than most nuts, taking the place of cashews.

One must not forget that large portions of the Chinese population have Global South levels of income. On a per capita basis Chinese consumption remains low compared with developed countries but for nuts and other foods this will continue to change as the Chinese economy grows.

As far as the CAP is concerned, I must confess that I have forgotten how the support regime for nuts works. It just shows how much detail and complexity there is in the policy. I do know, however, that the Court of Auditors has criticised over payments in Spain and Greece.

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