Changes in supply and demand patterns for food in China can have important implications for world markets. Even a small increase in Chinese imports can influence world markets in which there is a tight balance between supply and demand, as well as offering new export opportunities for farmers. Many of these decisions are politically determined and there appears to be a significant change in the line of the central authorities on corn (maize) imports recently.
Since 2001 when China lowered its import barriers, a policy of self-sufficiency has been followed in relation to corn, rice and wheat with imports kept to a minimum. In contrast the soyabean market was opened up to imports to release land for the key staples. China has become the world's largest importer of the oilseed, representing 75 per cent of global seaborne trade.
Last year China's agriculture minister Han Changfu said that corn 'should not become the second soyabean.' Recently, he has modified his line, saying that corn imports would have to increase gradually to meet demand for animal feed which in turn reflects growing prosperity and higher levels of meat consumption. It appears that China envisages importing 20-30m tonnes of corn a year, the lower figure representing 10 per cent of consumption. While China's grain output is at record levels, there are evident strains with urbanisation using up farmland and problems with water supplies.
China does not want to be solely dependent on the US and is encouraging exports from Argentina and the Ukraine.