Over the last two decades, China has developed into the largest importer of agricultural products in the world, while its exports remained on a considerably lower level. The growing net imports are mainly the result of increased consumption due to rising living standards and shifting consumption patterns towards protein-rich food, fruits, and vegetables. This demand can be less and less met by China’s own agricultural industry, which is strained by a very limited arable land area and therefore rendered less competitive in a trade-open environment.

Development of agricultural trade in China

Since China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, the country’s trade volume in agricultural products has increased tremendously and reached around 304 billion U.S. dollars in 2021. In the first decade after the WTO accession, imports were driven by land-intensive bulk commodities such as soybeans and cotton. Around 2012, however, bulk imports stopped growing, and the import of intermediate products such as edible oils and hides and skins also started to decline. This may be attributed to oversupply as well as rising labor costs, which made Chinese processed products less competitive in the world market. However, the import of consumer-oriented products such as meat, dairy, and horticultural products kept growing at high pace with meat imports indicating most impressive growth rates in recent years. At the same time, Chinese agricultural exports have lost growth momentum and the country has even become net importer of former export products such as tree nuts and beans.

China’s trade partners

A regional breakdown of the agricultural trade indicates that more than 50 percent of China’s imports are coming from North and South America. This trade is traditionally dominated by bulk products, most prominently soybeans. Total imports from the United States dropped in 2019 due to the U.S.-China trade conflict but have rebound after signing the Phase One Agreement in 2020. The import share from European countries has increased from slightly less than ten percent in 2012 to nearly 17 percent in 2021, driven by consumer-oriented products, especially meat and dairy. Chinese agricultural exports are mainly directed towards other Asian countries, which accounted for a share of around 65 percent in recent years.

Interesting statistics

In the following 6 chapters, you will quickly find the 39 most important statistics relating to "Agricultural trade in China".


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