China as a rice importer, or not

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It appears that China tries to keep the world off balance in projecting what the country will or will not need to feed its people today and the coming years. Rice supply and need is a prime example.

Within the last two weeks, two reports have indicated contradictions about the Chinese rice situation. The Qatar News Agency of the Middle East reported China is producing 98 percent of its rice consumption, per statements by the Chinese ministry of commerce.

But according to an LSU AgCenter report in The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., newspaper, Louisiana rice farmers could see better prices this year because of demand from China and a smaller crop from Brazil.

The AgCenter quoted Milo Hamilton, a rice marketing consultant, who spoke at the National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference, as suggesting Brazil’s rice crop could be suffering from weather issues and China could be importing more American rice because the country likes U.S. rice quality. The Chinese like American rice because it is cadmium-free, unlike the rice from some other exporting countries, Hamilton is reported as saying.

Meanwhile, the Chinese have released figures that show China doesn’t expect to be bigger importers in any kind of a normal year. “Over the last year, China has imported 2.316 million tons of rice, which amounts to 1.7 percent of the Chinese production of rice and 6 percent of the world's total rice trade,” according to the Qatar News Agency.

Unless U.S. rice is the preferred rice over all other rice, then the China ministry numbers don’t seem to support huge optimism for U.S. rice farmers. But the U.S. Agriculture Department disputes Chinese numbers in reporting Chinese rice consumption in 2012 reached 144 million tons, which was 1 million tons above the domestic production level—both figures being the highest in the world.

Regional Asian reports support that American rice has replaced Thailand rice, which became higher priced under a government program to guarantee increased income for the Thai rice growers. Until two years ago, China according to reports, imported mainly the already expensive "fragrant rice" from Thailand that was preferred by many well-off Chinese. Additional cost for this rice broke the camel’s back.

More numbers pulled from the Qatar report are of Chinese released production numbers. “According to the data, grain production in China has been increasing in nine consecutive years until 2012, with an overall yield of 589.55 billion kilograms last year. The country has been producing 525 billion kilograms or more in five consecutive years.”

No matter the Chinese or even the Brazilian situation, it doesn’t appear that rice will be a food crisis commodity in 2013, but prices could be impacted on what China does compared to what it says in government statements. 

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USA  |  February, 06, 2013 at 01:55 PM

Except for the fact that Chinese phytosanitary protocol restricts the import of US rice into China, this would be good news.

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