Who Will China Feed?
VOLUME 6 ISSUE 3ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE/USDA
F E A T U R E
AMBER WAVESWilliam Coyle, USDA/ERS
An interview with the authors is featured
online at: www.ers.usda.gov/amberwaves/
F E A T U R E
JUNE 2008In the 1990s, many analysts saw China as a major potential
market for agricultural exports from the United States and other
countries. Lester Brown’s highly publicized 1995 book, Who Will
Feed China? A Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet, predicted that
China would turn to international grain markets to meet the
expanding food demands of its increasingly affluent population.
World Trade Organization (WTO) accession was expected to be a
watershed event that would finally open the Chinese market to
grain and meat imports.
While China has emerged as the world’s leading importer of
soybeans, vegetable oil, cotton, wool, rubber, and animal hides, it
has been surprisingly successful at meeting the basic food needs
of its population of more than 1.3 billion people, and it has
stepped up as a major food exporter. How long can China sustain
China imports only small amounts of premium-grade rice,
minor amounts of wheat in most years, and no corn. China has
maintained agricultural self-sufficiency in grains as it carries out
the world’s largest and fastest urbanization and industrialization.
Economic development is increasing competition for scarce
resources in China, but growing incomes are allowing most con-
sumers to increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, and
China has become a significant food exporter by ramping up
production in many sectors and gaining world market share.
Indeed, China has been a net food exporter for most of the last
three decades. China dominates world markets in a variety of
products areas, including garlic, apples, apple juice, mandarin
oranges, farm-raised fish and shrimp, and vegetables. At times, it
seems that China has suspended