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China is expected to improve its international agricultural cooperation over the next five years


To adapt to changes in the international and domestic situations, China needs to adjust its international agricultural cooperation strategies during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25).

Since it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has shifted from a net exporter of agricultural products to a net importer and surpassed the United States as the world's largest net importer of agricultural products after 2012. The rapid import growth can be attributed to China's economic growth and people's increased income, rather than insufficient grain output or security issues. Similarly, the US was once the world's largest importer of agricultural products due to the large market demand of its high-income people.

Over the past five years, China's agricultural trade volume rose from $184.6 billion to $246.8 billion, with an average annual growth rate of 6 percent. During that period, China's exports of agricultural products climbed from $73 billion to $76 billion and imports grew from $111.6 billion to $170.8 billion. The remarkable growth of imports will continue during the coming five years, remaining at a high level even when China's agricultural product market sees consumption saturation.

Over the past years, the global multilateral economic system has been debilitated and agricultural trade has been blocked by international tensions and unilateralism, with developing countries, especially the least developed countries, bearing the brunt. Moreover, the global trade of agricultural products has become sluggish with the novel coronavirus pandemic yet to be effectively contained in most countries. To meet the challenges, China needs to improve its international agricultural cooperation.

Traditional international agricultural cooperation measures mainly include promoting agricultural trade, improving two-way investment, enhancing cooperation on agricultural technologies and boosting personnel exchanges, which are aimed at ensuring supplies of major agricultural products at home, promoting agricultural exchanges and fulfilling the country's international responsibilities. As China's role in the global agricultural product market and its comprehensive national strength both improve, the country will further strengthen its international agricultural cooperation.

Besides ensuring supplies at home, the government is expected to further tap into the large domestic market to stabilize global agricultural trade. In response to the pandemic, some countries have imposed export controls on agricultural products. However, the Chinese government has remained open and inclusive on imports and exports of agricultural products, which has contributed to stabilizing the global agricultural product market.

The government will further improve the allocation of global agricultural resources through wider, broader and further opening-up. It is expected to promote infrastructure interconnection and expand cooperation with third-party markets under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Over the past five years, wheat of Kazakhstan was delivered by China-Europe Railway Express to the port of Lianyungang, Jiangsu province in East China, and then to Vietnam and Malaysia; and Thailand's rice was exported to Kazakhstan via the railway express after being transported to the same port. China will give full play to its advantages in agricultural technologies and targeted poverty alleviation experience to provide better assistance to developing countries, especially the least developed ones. In view of the current international and domestic situations, more approaches and channels for international agricultural cooperation can be explored. Since the demand of Chinese consumers for diversified and personalized agricultural products has increased, the government needs to diversify import channels while improving domestic supplies to improve agricultural trade at home and abroad. For instance, it can promote Hainan Free Trade Zone as a tropical spices trading market, and establish a safflower and sunflower seed and oil markets based on the land ports of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

In addition to attracting foreign investment and promoting Chinese agricultural enterprises to go global, the government can further boost agricultural cooperation through platforms including overseas demonstration zones and cross-border pilot zones for agricultural cooperation that can tap into niche fields and meet the demands of regional markets. It needs to drive the development of zones with growth potential through policies and market-oriented measures, such as promoting the National Comprehensive Pilot Zone for Agricultural Opening-up and Development in Weifang, Shandong province, to become an international agricultural cooperation hub

International agricultural cooperation in the next phase will also focus on laws and regulations, regulatory systems, operating qualifications, quality standards, inspection and quarantine as well as certification and accreditation for higher-level development.

The 14th Five-Year Plan period marks the first five years of China's new journey to realize the building of a socialist modern country across the board after it completed the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects. In the next five years, its socioeconomic development will bring new opportunities to international agricultural cooperation, while the patterns of the global agricultural product market, product forms and requirements for technologies will also see great changes.

It should be noted that about 10 percent of the world's population is still suffering from starvation and malnutrition, which can only be addressed through cooperation among the international community. China, which has eradicated absolute poverty, can provide experience on this issue to ensure the right to survival.

Therefore, China is expected to improve the international agricultural cooperation in the 14th Five-Year Plan period not only for its own development, but also to fulfill its international commitments.

The author is a researcher of the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.