Monday, November 20, 2017

China GMO Testing Lab Consolidation, Privatization is Mulled

Chinese authorities are thinking about consolidating GMO testing labs and turning them into genuine third-party testing organizations, according to a report in China Business Journal yesterday.

One of the motivations for the consolidation is last year's exposure of a GMO testing lab's falsification of testing records and employee qualifications to pass a 3-year audit.

There are currently 42 testing centers for GMO plants and animals on the Ministry of Agriculture's list. However, the qualifications of several have already lapsed, and a dozen more are up for renewal in 2017 and 2018. No preparations have been made to audit several testing centers whose qualifications will soon be up for renewal.

One researcher told China Business Journal that there are plans to weed out weak labs, and he speculated that the number of testing centers could be whittled down to as few as 10.

There are also plans to make the GMO testing centers independent third party organizations. Currently, all the accredited testing centers are laboratories affiliated with the agricultural system--institutes in central or provincial academies of agricultural science, seed management labs, and environmental monitoring organizations. While they are not directly under the Ministry of Agriculture, these entities receive funds from the Ministry's budget to pay for offices, labs and equipment. As they are not truly independent of the Agriculture Ministry, the Chinese public may not fully trust their evaluations of experimental trials for GMO crops and animals sponsored by research institutes with government funds.

Many of the testing centers fear they could not survive as truly independent third party organizations responsible for their own profits and losses. Centers would have to raise their fees substantially to cover the costs of labs and equipment. Current fees of 1000 yuan for a new variety test could rise to 7000-8000 yuan, one researcher surmised. Moreover, highly qualified professionals needed for effective testing prefer working in a government unit due to social welfare benefits and other superior conditions. As private enterprises, third party labs would have a hard time attracting such professionals.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Soybean Excess Capacity; Russia Big Potential Supplier?

A Chinese soybean industry executive complained about the sector's chronic excess capacity and predicted that Russia would be the main supplier of China's future soybean demand growth.

The comments were made by Shi Yongge, the vice-chairman on China's Jiusan Grain and Oils Industry Group at a global oilseed conference hosted in Guangzhou by the Dalian Commodity Exchange last week. Mr. Shi praised the role of China's supply side reform initiative in reviving domestic soybean production this year, but he worried about the sustainability of the shift in planted area away from corn to soybeans. Mr. Shi expects China's soybean imports to reach 93 mmt this year, over 90% of soybeans used in the country.

Mr. Shi raised concerns about excess crushing capacity in China. Much of the capacity has been built along the northern coast, and he thinks the northeast region is about to follow suit. China's domestic soybeans are increasingly oriented toward food protein products like tofu and soy sauce, Shi said.

Mr. Shi also worried about domination of the soybean market by ten companies that have 70% of the crushing capacity. They include state-owned, foreign-invested, and private companies, including COFCO, Wilmar, Jiusan, Sinograin, and Bohi. He thinks competition will heat up and financial losses will return next year when new capacity comes online.

Mr. Shi pointed out that China is the largest soybean-consuming country, and whoever meets China's demand will win the market. He surmised that Russia would be the top supplier of China's soybean demand in coming years because of its geographic location and "secure transportation." He cited greater investment opportunities in China-Russia trade in view of the "One Road One Belt" initiative (which promotes trade with countries between China and Western Europe, including Russia).

Chinese farmers have been growing soybeans and other crops in Russia for 15 years or more. The flow of soybeans from Russia into China did pick up in the last few years, but is still relatively tiny, at 300,000-to-400,000 metric tons annually over the past three years. Russia was the Number-six soybean supplier to China during the 12 months that ended in September 2017. In comparison, customs statistics say China received over 45 million metric tons of soybeans from Brazil and 36 mmt from the United States. Imported soybeans from Canada more than doubled over the last three years, but imports from Russia did not increase significantly.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

China MOA S&D November 2017

China Ministry of Agriculture's monthly S&D report sees supply pressure from domestic corn reserve sales and surging soybean imports putting downward pressure on markets. Cotton supplies are "tight" as government reserves shrink below a year's supply.

The China Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (CASDE) for November 2017 was released Nov. 9, with few changes from the previous month. The 2016/17 corn market year is now complete, and CASDE estimates that demand exceeded supply by 11.2 million metric tons (mmt). The only change in the corn balance sheet from last month was a slight increase in imports to 2.46 mmt. In fact, over the course of the year CASDE made few changes in its corn S&D for 2016/17.

A year ago, in its November 2016 report, CASDE estimated that corn supply would exceed demand by 3.8 mmt during 2016/17. The main change since that report is the raising of its initial low-ball estimate of production (213.6 mmt) to the official output statistic of 219.55 mmt. In November 2016 CASDE forecast 2016/17 corn imports at just 1 mmt, as they thought domestic corn prices had fallen low enough to choke off import demand. Over the course of the year, CASDE ratcheted its corn import estimate upward to the current 2.46 mmt.

China corn supply and demand (Ministry of Ag, Nov 2017)
Item Unit 2016/17 Oct 2016/17 Nov 2017/18 Oct 2017/18 Nov
Planted area 1000 ha 36,760 36,768 35,100 35,100
Harvested area 1000 ha 36,760 36,768 35,100 35,100
Yield Kg/ha 5,973 5,971 5,986 5,986
Production MMT 219.75 219.55 210.11 210.11
Imports MMT 2.30 2.46 1.50 1.50
Consumption MMT 210.72 210.72 215.62 215.62
--Food MMT 7.82 7.82 7.89 7.89
--Feed MMT 133.03 133.03 135.03 135.03
--Industrial use MMT 58.25 58.25 61.3 61.3
--Seed MMT 1.61 1.61 1.57 1.5
--Loss and other MMT 10.01 10.01 9.83 9.83
Exports MMT 0.15 0.08 0.3 0.3
Surplus MMT 11.00 11.21 -4.31 -4.31

In the coming market year 2017/18, CASDE estimates that China's corn demand will exceed its supply by 4.3 mmt. Corn production is estimated at 210.1 mmt, down 8.4 mmt from last year. Consumption for 2017/18 increases by less than 5 mmt over the previous year, driven by modest growth in both industrial and feed use. Again, CASDE has a low import number of 1.5 mmt for 2017/18. The CASDE authors anticipate that the corn market will be characterized by excess supply due to pressure from large government corn reserves and the "normalization" of auction sales. (In fact, auctions of corn from government reserves were halted in November so as not to depress corn prices as sales of the new crop move into their peak season.) CASDE left its estimate of average wholesale corn prices in production regions unchanged, at 1550-1650 yuan per metric ton. CASDE estimates the price of imported corn arriving in southern China at 1650-1750 yuan per metric ton.

CASDE has also had to ratchet its estimate of soybean imports upward over the course of the year. This month CASDE reports that 2016/17 soybean imports totaled 93.5 mmt. A year ago, CASDE had forecast 2016/17 soybean imports at 86 mmt. (USDA's WASDE similarly ratcheted its China soybean import estimate up from 86 mmt a year ago to 93.5 mmt this month, but USDA's 3-mmt forecast of China's corn imports a year ago was very close to the actual number.)  CASDE had to also raise its estimate of soybean crush over the course of the year as imports boomed. The final 2016/17 soybean import volume is up 12 percent from the year before.

China soybean supply and demand (Ministry of Ag, Nov 2017)
Item Unit 2016/17 Oct 2016/17 Nov 2017/18 Oct 2017/18 Nov
Planted area 1000 ha 7,208 7,208 8,194 8,194
Harvested area 1000 ha 7,202 7,202 8,194 8,194
Yield Kg/ha 1796 1796 1823 1817
Production MMT 12.94 12.94 1494 1489
Imports MMT 92.87 93.49 94.50 95.97
Consumption MMT 106.83 108.11 109.21 110.56
--Crushing MMT 91.76 92.90 93.08 94.38
--Food MMT 11.18 11.18 12.04 12.04
--Seed MMT 0.64 0.64 0.64 0.64
Loss and other MMT 3.25 3.39 3.45 3.5
Exports MMT 0.12 0.12 0.22 0.22
Surplus MMT -1.14 0.01 -0.25 0.08

CASDE raised its estimate of 2017/18 soybean imports to 96 mmt this month, up from 94.5 mmt in October. Although CASDE reported some problems with the domestic crop due to heavy rains in Anhui and Henan Province (where beans are produced mainly for food use), CASDE authors said  downward price pressure on soybean markets is evident. CASDE reduced its estimate of domestic soybean prices about 4-5 percent (the only price estimate they cut) to 4175-4375 yuan per metric ton. CASDE estimates the C&F price of imported soybeans at 3050-3250 yuan per metric ton, unchanged from last month. The large gap between domestic and import prices reflects a premium for domestic beans that are presumed to be non-GMO and mainly for food processing use. The fat premium also provides strong incentive to surreptitiously divert imported (GMO) soybeans to food manufacturing use.

CASDE expects imports of vegetable oils to increase in 2017/18 to reach 6.3 mmt, up from 5.8 mmt during 2016/17. 

China edible oils supply and demand (Min Agriculture, Nov 2017)
Item Unit 2016/17 Oct 2016/17 Nov 2017/18 Oct 2017/18 Nov
Production MMT 27.28 27.36 27.53 27.76
--Soy oil MMT 16.17 16.27 16.28 16.51
--Rapeseed oil MMT 5.76 5.74 5.71 5.71
--Peanut oil MMT 3.18 3.18 3.24 3.24
Imports MMT 5.8 5.78 6.20 6.28
--Palm oil MMT 3.2 3.34 3.75 3.75
--Rapeseed oil MMT 0.80 0.80 0.85 0.85
--Soy oil MMT 0.74 0.71 0.58 0.65
Consumption MMT 31.68 31.68 31.86 31.90
--Urban MMT 22.92 22.97 23.12 23.4
--Rural MMT 8.76 8.71 8.74 8.50
Exports MMT 0.17 0.17 0.13 0.17
Surplus MMT 1.24 1.29 1.70 1.96

CASDE made a slight reduction in 2017/18 cotton output due to heavy rain in central provinces that caused some cotton bolls to rot in the fields. Production was reduced by 30,000 metric tons. Imports are forecast at 1 mmt for 2017/18. CASDE estimates that China's cotton inventory was depleted by over 2.1 mmt during 2016/17 and will drop another 1.9 mmt during 2017/18. CASDE described China's cotton market as "tight" while the world supply is "loose."

China cotton supply and demand (Ministry of Ag, Nov 2017)
Item Unit 2016/17 Oct 2016/17 Nov 2017/18 Oct 2017/18 Nov
Begin inventory MMT 11.11 11.11 8.94 8.94
Planted area 1000 ha 3,100 3,100 3,293 3,293
Yield Kg/ha 1,555 1,555 1,602 1,616
Production MMT 4.82 4.82 5.35 5.32
Imports MMT 1.11 1.11 1.00 1.00
Consumption MMT 8.09 8.09 8.22 8.22
Exports MMT 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01
End Inventory MMT 8.94 8.94 7.06 7.03

China sugar supply and demand (Ministry of Agriculture, Nov. 2017)
Item Unit 2016/17 Oct 2016/17 Nov 2017/18 Oct 2017/18 Nov
Planted area 1000 ha 1351 1396 1472 1456
--sugar cane 1000 ha 1183 1225 1277 1267
--sugar beets 1000 ha 168 171 195 189

--sugar cane MT/ha 60 61.8 60 60
--sugar beets MT/ha 52.5 55.2 52.5 52.5
Sugar output MMT 9.29 9.29 10.47 10.35
--sugar cane MMT 8.24 8.24 9.23 9.15
--sugar beets MMT 1.05 1.05 1.24 1.2
Imports MMT 2.35 2.29 3.2 3.2
Consumption MMT 15 14.9 15 15
Exports MMT 0.12 0.12 0.07 0.07
Surplus MMT -3.48 -3.44 -1.4 -1.52

Friday, November 10, 2017

China Ag Imports Up 13% Through September

China imported $93.9 billion worth of agricultural products during January-September 2017, according to statistics released by China's Agriculture Ministry. The import value was up 13.4 percent from the same period a year ago. Agricultural exports totaled $53.3 billion, up 1.5 percent from last year. The agricultural trade deficit was $40.6 billion.

China's agricultural imports,
January-September 2017
Import value Growth from previous year
Ag total 93.9 13.4
Cereals 5.0 7.6
Oilseeds 32.3 19.6
Livestock products 18.8 6.5
Edible oils 4.1 15.9
Fruit 5.0 7.5
Cotton and yarn 2.5 44.1
Sugar 0.9 6.8
Vegetables 0.4 0.2
Fish and seafood 8.5 23.3

China is generating plenty of cash to pay for agricultural imports. Agricultural imports during Jan-Sep constituted just 6.8% of China's total import bill for the first three quarters of 2017. The $ 40.6 billion agricultural trade deficit made a small dent in the overall $ 307 billion trade surplus through September of this year.

As usual, oilseeds--$32.3 billion--were the dominant component of agricultural imports--accounting for about a third of the dollar value. Oilseed imports are up nearly 20 percent this year, so far. Livestock products were the second-largest chunk, with $18.8 billion. Every category of agricultural imports was up this year, and many were up in double-digit percentage growth.

Imports of each category of oilseeds and vegetable oils are up sharply this year. While officials struggle to engineer rebounds in domestic soybean and rapeseed production, imports continue to meet China's seemingly insatiable demand for grease.
China imports of oilseeds and edible oils, Jan-Sept 2017
Growth from last year

Palm oil
Rapeseed oil
Sunflower and safflower
Soybean oil

China imported 20.3 million tonnes of cereal grains in the first three quarters of 2017, up 12.2 percent from last year. Imports of wheat are up 25 percent this year. The demand for imported wheat reflects the poor quality of the 2016 crop and tight supplies of good quality wheat. Rice imports are up 16 percent, due to the persistent gap between Chinese and world prices. China has been aggressively exporting rice as well this year: its rice exports are up nearly 3-fold from last year to 888,000 tonnes.

China's imports of corn are down 23.6 percent this year to 2.28 mmt for Jan-Sep, as the Chinese government tries to force-feed the market with its bulging reserves. Distillers grains imports were down 86 percent, due to antidumping and countervailing duties slapped on this feed ingredient a year ago. Imports of sorghum--used mainly as a feed ingredient--are down 25 percent, but barley and cassava imports remain strong.

China imports of grains and other major agricultural commodities, Jan.-Sept. 2017
Imports, Jan-Sep
Change from a year ago

Million tonnes
*Yarn is a substitute for cotton.

China has been trying to force-feed its cotton reserves to its domestic market for several years to unwind a price support program that went awry--much as it is doing now for corn. According to the Ag Ministry China's cotton imports are up 16.8 percent so far this year, as cotton supplies are reportedly tightening in China. Cotton imports of 1 million tonnes are slightly above the tariff rate quota of 890,000 tonnes. Yarn imports--which have no quota restriction--are 1.4 million tonnes so far this year.

Sugar imports, also the target of new Chinese antidumping duties, are down 30 percent from last year. The sugar duties apply to imports outside of the 1.9-million tonne tariff rate quota. This year's imports of 1.8 million tonnes through September are close to the quota amount.

China's pork imports are down in 2017 as domestic prices have fallen from record levels reached in the first half of 2016. Imports of pork and pork offal were each 921,000 tonnes during the first three quarters of 2017, still historically high. Beef imports were up 14.7 percent, to 503,000 tonnes. China's opening of its market to U.S. beef had a minimal role--customs statistics say imports of U.S. beef totaled about 520 tonnes--0.1 percent of the total for this year through September. Imports of milk powder surged 23 percent to 820,000 tonnes.
China meat imports, Jan-Sep 2017
Imports, Jan-Sep
Change from a year ago

1000 tonnes
Pork offal
Milk powder

China's top agricultural export items were fish and seafood ($15.4 bil), vegetables ($11.1 bil.), fruits ($4.5 bil), and livestock products ($4.6 bil).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

China Meat Imports Creep Further Inland

As China opens a broader swathe of its territory to meat imports, its livestock producers need to raise their game. So warns a commentary posted on a Chinese pork industry web site last month.

Last year, this blog reported that Chinese authorities have been approving dozens of new entry points for meat imports since a 2015 bulletin called for a more tightly regulated and standardized approach to control sanitation and potential disease transmission. Most of these points were located along China's coast. Last month, a commentary on the site called attention to dramatic growth of meat imports arriving at newly-approved inland entry points like Zhengzhou, the first entry point for meat approved in Henan Province and the first inland entry point approved, hundreds of miles from China's coast.

According to Zhengzhou Daily, the entry point was set up through collaboration of many companies, including Shuanghui (owner of Smithfield Foods), Congpin (another major pork company), Beijing Xin'ao (company set up by Beijing's municipal government to build the 2008 Olympics park), and a meat inspection company. According to plans the district hopes to receive meat from 23 countries, including Australian beef, pork from the U.S. and Denmark, and poultry from the U.S. and Brazil.

The Zhengzhou meat entry point now reportedly has 75 companies engaged in business. Top companies this year include Hebei Kangyuan Muslim Food Co which uses 30,000 mt or more beef and lamb annually, and Chongqing Hengdu Agriculture Group which imports 25,000 mt or more of beef. The head of Chuying Agro-Pastoral Group claims that flying in meat to Zhengzhou rather than trucking it from the Qingdao port saves his company 1 yuan per kg in domestic transportation and intermediate costs.

Zhengzhou represents the Chinese leadership's strategy of shifting the locus of growth from coastal cities to China's under-developed central and western regions. Zhengzhou does not have an ocean or river port and is not at an international border crossing. The One Belt One Road strategy of forging trade links with countries on China's western and southern borders is a related driver of the strategy.

Other inland meat entry points approved in the last two years include Luohe (Shuanghui's headquarters, also in Henan); a bonded logistics center in Lanzhou; Xinjiang border crossings with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Mongolia; Xian's inland port; and Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province.

While imports arriving at the inland ports are growing at a rapid pace, they still account for a tiny share of China's meat imports. Zhengzhou is the top inland meat entry point, with import volume expected to surpass 30,000 metric tons in 2017. In comparison, the Tianjin and Shanghai customs districts each received over 1 million metric tons of meat and edible offal last year.

The commentary mentions that recently signed an agreement with Smithfield that will make it easier for consumers to buy pork products directly from overseas.

The (unnamed) author of the commentary acknowledges that domestic pork producers cannot help but worry about the impact of imports on their profits. However, he admonishes Chinese meat producers that the rising tide of imports at inland locations is another reminder that farmers in China must raise their technical prowess, reduce costs, and become more internationally competitive.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

China Wants to Certify Food Safety in Global Market

Despite its abysmal reputation in food safety, China now thinks it deserves a stronger say in certifying the safety of food in international trade.

In an October 10 article in Economic Information Daily, the chief of Zhejiang Province's Ningbo district inspection and quarantine bureau complained that Chinese food exporters face an "invisible wall" of multiple certifications required to sell products in overseas markets. These include process certifications like HACCP and ISO9001, organic standards, halal and kosher certifications, and social responsibility certifications. He complained that certifications are monopolized by foreign organizations who charge high fees, often fail to obey rules, and impose a heavy burden on Chinese food-exporting companies.

Another complaint is that certifications are not mutually recognized, leading to duplication in certifications for different markets. Countries don't trust each others' certifications (i.e. other countries don't trust Chinese certifications).

The article suggested that China need not passively accept the dominance of foreign certifiers. The article called for creating "native" certification brands that will have international influence and strengthen China's voice in the international certification market. A Zhejiang University professor quoted in the article predicted that China will soon develop influential certification companies that will be on an equal footing with foreign certification organizations and give China a voice in certification. He suggested giving awards to successful certifiers. The article called for leveraging the "One Belt One Road" campaign, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and trade agreements to boost the position of Chinese companies in quality certification and testing.

While the article appears to be the opinion of a local official, it probably signals a new campaign to boost China's influence in the setting and enforcement of international standards for food safety. The communist party leadership's "document no. 1" on rural policy issued in January included exhortations for China to "actively participate in the setting and revision of international trade rules and international standards" and to work toward achieving "mutually recognized certifications for agricultural products." The no. 1 document also called for expanding exports of agricultural products--language that has appeared in most of the rural policy documents since 1984.

This new initiative is consistent with China's general pursuit of a more assertive and influential role in international affairs to break the perceived dominance of Anglophone and European countries. Recent Chinese documents on strategy for "international cooperation" in agriculture set similar objectives of playing a more influential role in international bodies like the WTO, Codex Alimentarius, and the international animal disease organization that set the rules for international trade.

China is already insisting that international standards must be adapted to its unusual consumption habits and other peculiarities--see this year's revision of Chinese standards for infant formula. Unique Chinese standards will, of course, demand Chinese organizations will be necessary to certify foods for import to China. Once that is accomplished it's a short step to insist that Chinese certifiers and labs be accredited for oversight of Chinese exporters in China and in other countries where they are investing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

China Cuts Wheat Price for First Time

China announced a reduction in its minimum price for wheat to RMB 2300 per metric ton for next year's (2018) crop. This is the first time the minimum price for wheat has been cut since the program was started in 2006. Authorities had raised the minimum price a cumulative 64 percent over 7 years from 2007 to 2014, then held it steady at 2360 per metric ton over the last four years. Minimum rice prices were cut for the first time in 2017. 
The Chinese government has purchased over 20 million metric tons of wheat each of the last four years to maintain the minimum price. According to China's Grain Reserve Corporation, 23.8 mmt of wheat was purchased from the 2017 wheat crop as of Sept. 30. That equals 18.5 percent of the entire wheat crop and one-third of the 72.1 mmt total of all wheat procured.

By removing large volumes of wheat from the market and storing it, Chinese authorities are holding the price far above the price that would be dictated by supply and demand. Authorities acknowledge that they are holding large stockpiles of wheat, but have not revealed how much they have.

Authorities called for "improvement" of the minimum purchase price policy for wheat and rice in the "Document No. 1" released at the beginning of the year. A propaganda report on price reforms during Xi Jinping's administration issued this month hailed progress toward market-determined prices and singled out agricultural commodities and irrigation water among five remaining commodities and services needing further market reforms (others were electric rates, natural gas, transportation, and medical services). The propaganda report explained that this year's reduction in minimum prices for rice were a signal that reform is needed to deal with rising rice and wheat inventories, divergence between domestic and international prices, and reduced market vitality. The report promised reforms of the minimum price program to make it more responsive and flexible.

After the modest 2.5-percent reduction just announced, the wheat price in China would be still about $9.44 per bu., about double the price received by U.S. farmers for winter wheat this year. It is also far above the U.S. Gulf price.

The Ministry of Agriculture's September commodity S&D report said wheat imported at the 1-percent in-quota tariff cost RMB 2140 per metric ton during September, 820 yuan less than the price of good quality domestic wheat. Imports of wheat for January-August 2017 totaled 3.18 mmt. The Ministry's report described wheat markets as having tight supplies and rising prices, "due to the relatively good quality of this year's wheat crop, active purchasing by processors, and support by market intervention purchases."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Big Grain Harvest Expected, Livestock Prices Falling

China is expected to have a big grain harvest exceeding 600 million metric tons -- similar to last year's output -- its chief agricultural statistician said in an online report. Hog and poultry supplies are up less than 1 percent this year, but livestock prices are down.

The report by the head of the rural survey division was one of a series on the National Bureau of Statistics web site featuring good news about various sectors of the Chinese economy for the first three quarters of 2017. Agricultural value added over the first three quarters was up 3.8 percent from last year, 0.2 percentage points faster than last year.

This summer's wheat output of 127.35 mmt was up 0.9 percent from 2016. The 27.4 mil. ha. planted in wheat was down 1 percent this year, so the increase in production reflects a 1.9-percent improvement in yield to 5505 kg/ha. Weather was relatively good this year, so there were fewer substandard wheat kernels, less disease, less mold, and fewer sprouted kernels than last year. The Ministry of Agriculture reports that the composition of wheat output has improved in quality this year. High- and low-gluten varieties of wheat comprised 27.5 percent of this summer's wheat crop, the Ministry said, up 2.8 percentage points from the previous year.

This summer's early rice crop was estimated at 31.75 mmt, down 3.2 percent from 2016. The decline reflected mainly a 2.8-percent decline in area planted, to 5.46 mil. ha. The statistician attributed the decline in early rice planting to the poor quality of this type of rice, its low profitability, and high labor requirements. The early rice yield of 5805 kg/ha was down 0.4 percent, due to poor weather and floods.

The fall grain crop now being harvested is expected to be good, due to favorable weather, plenty of sunshine, good rainfall, and no widespread droughts or floods. The statistics bureau expects output to be close to last year's production. Total grain output for the year is expected to exceed 600 mmt again.

Pork output during the first three quarters of 2017 was 37.17 mmt. The increase in pork output over last year was just 0.7 percent, but the statistics bureau described this as a rapid recovery. The number of hogs slaughtered was up 0.6 percent. The report doesn't mention that swine inventory at the end of the third quarter was down 0.8 percent from a year ago--a number buried in the third quarter economic report--which may restrain pork growth in the fourth quarter. The bureau reported that China's swine herd is shifting from southeastern provinces to corn-growing northern provinces as a result of the campaign to close hog farms in areas vulnerable to water pollution.

Poultry meat output during the first three quarters of 2017 was 13.23 mmt, up 0.5 percent from the same period last year. Egg output was 21.69 percent, down 0.7 percent.

Beef output during the first three quarters of 2017 was up 1.1 percent from last year, and production of sheep meat was up 1.8 percent.

With abundant market supplies of agricultural products, farm prices were down 4.5 percent overall during the first three quarters of 2017. Producer price surveys show that prices fell 2.2 percent during the first quarter, 6.4 percent during the second quarter, and 3.2 percent during the third quarter, the statistics bureau said. The decline reflected mainly falling livestock prices. Hog prices were down 14.5 percent, egg prices were down 11.8 percent, poultry prices were down 5.5 percent, corn prices were down 5.5 percent, and vegetables were down 5.3 percent. Forestry product prices were up 8.2 percent, and fish prices were up 5.5 percent.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

China Food Export Assistance Program Expands

China is expanding a food export promotion program that it agreed to stop subsidizing last year.

China's "food and agricultural export quality and safety demonstration district" (出口食品农产品质量安全示范区) program aims to assist food processors and their farmer-suppliers in reaching international standards so they can break into international markets. The program is overseen by China's import and export inspection and quarantine bureau (国家质量监督检验检疫总局) and is implemented by provincial and local government departments. The inspection and quarantine agency selects rural districts across the country to join the program. Local officials help food processing and trading companies and surrounding farmers in a "production base" adopt international standards, obtain certifications, and eliminate toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals from food and agricultural products.
Ceremony for founding of a food and agricultural export demonstration district.

The program has been underway in China for a number of years. Last month, China's inspection and quarantine agency announced 78 new agricultural and food export demonstration bases approved in 2017. The list was posted along with a list of 289 previously-approved export demonstration bases. The agency also has an online directory of the demonstration bases with a brief description of each. Export demonstration districts are located in every province. Each district features different products. The bases approved this year include garlic, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, chicken, eggs, pork, beef, mutton, deer products, apples, apple juice, pears, peaches, kiwis, tangerines, lemons, mangoes, tomato paste, strawberries, blueberries, peppers, grapes, dates, chestnuts, shrimp, pet food, herbal medicine, flowers, rabbits, honey, fish, shrimp, rice, flour, sweet corn, tea, yams, peanuts, cooking oil, and mineral water.

In 2016, the U.S. Trade Representative announced that China had signed an agreement to terminate subsidies for a “Demonstration Bases-Common Service Platform” which sounds exactly like this program. The United States challenged the program as a violation of China's World Trade Organization commitment to forego export subsidies. Regarding last year's agreement, one Congressman said, "Trade is crucial for the agriculture industry in my California district...Our growers play by the rules and we expect the same from our trade partners."

Many provincial governments have announced their newly approved food export bases since last month. Shaanxi Province's announcement says it aims to have 20 export bases with annual production of US$1 billion by 2020. The program's objective is to expand the province's food and agricultural exports. The province hopes to create 1 or 2 large food-exporting companies with sales of $100 million and 10 food exporters with sales of $50 million. The demonstration bases are centered on food and agricultural processing and trading companies with participation by a "production base" composed of farmers in a surrounding county or prefecture. The program is supported by coordinated efforts of multiple provincial or local government agencies. The Shaanxi program specifies roles for provincial agricultural, commerce, and environmental protection departments, food and drug administration, technical supervision bureau, and local authorities.

Shaanxi's announcement called for "strengthening support" with a provincial industrial development fund as the primary source. Support includes setting up online databases of international standards; subsidizing certifications for Good Agricultural Practices, HACCP, organic, and domestic "green food" and "pollution free" programs; assistance for participation in international exhibitions and trade shows; testing for pesticides and veterinary drugs; training programs for farmers and company personnel; product and chemical testing labs; publicizing standards; and giving awards and punishments for compliance with standards. The program features establishment of traceability systems and record-keeping for food products and for chemical inputs and veterinary drugs.
Provincial official explains food and ag export demonstration district organization work to local officials.

Hunan Province announced nine new food export demonstration districts. The provincial inspection and quarantine bureau's party secretary said the province's agricultural exports had risen rapidly under the 7-year-old demonstration base program. He said 60 percent of the province's ag and food exports come from the demonstration bases, and Hunan's ag and food exports rose from $485 million in 2009 to over $1.3 billion in 2016. Hunan's food exports through August this year are up over 11 percent. In Changsha County, a pilot program has linked producers with a food retailer that sells products abroad through its international procurement system. Hunan aims to further expand food exports, including a plan for "backbone" companies to penetrate Mongolia, Central Asia, and Russia through the "One Road One Belt" initiative.

Dalian Prefecture in Liaoning Province has five national-level food export demonstration districts featuring grain processing, fruit, chicken, horseradish, seafood, edible fungus, vegetable products, and eggs, as well as a provincial-level poultry export district. Enterprises in the districts account for 70 percent of Dalian's food and agricultural exports. The Wafangdian demonstration district reportedly accounts for 70 percent of China's apple exports to the United States. Dalian exported 61,000 metric tons of poultry last year and accounts for most of China's frozen poultry shipments to Hong Kong. The local inspection and quarantine service gives priority for inspection and testing to demonstration district products, uses standardized procedures to test for chemical residues, heavy metals, and toxins; conducts quality monitoring of export companies in the districts. The Dalian government promises greater financial support for investment in inspection and testing capacity in both government departments and companies in the demonstration districts. Lab testing fees will be subsidized and financial awards will be given to farmers and companies.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

China Rice Glut Struggle

Officials in China worried about warehouses crammed with low-quality rice are contemplating how to adjust their price support policy.

At a September 29 State Council news conference on rural affairs, Han Jun, head of China's Central Rural Work Leadership Group, said that pressure from excess supply of rice has become evident over the last three years and the disposal of excess inventories is a "problem that urgently needs to be solved."

Because the government sets a minimum price that holds the Chinese price above international prices, Han explained, a perverse phenomenon has appeared: imported rice enters the Chinese market, while Chinese rice goes into government reserves.

In 2017, authorities reduced minimum prices for the three main types of rice for the first time since the program was introduced in 2004. Han explained that this year's cut in minimum prices is a signal that supply is greater than demand.

Han said the government had purchased over 50 million metric tons (mmt) of rice and wheat at minimum prices each year since 2014, about 20 percent of the rice and wheat produced in China. Han Jun estimated the excess supply of rice in 2015 at 18.75 mmt (about 9 percent of rice produced). He estimated the excess supply of wheat at 16 mmt (about 13 percent of wheat produced).

A rice market analyst interviewed by China Central Broadcasting last month speculated that the minimum price program for rice could be eliminated as early as next year (2018). A second analyst said excess supply of rice is evident, and estimated China's national rice inventory at 120 mmt (about 60 percent of annual production). With 20 mmt being added to inventories each year, and sales of inventories going at a slow pace, the inventory keeps piling up, the analyst said.

In comments on prospects for the summer grain harvest made in May, the director of the State Administration of Grain commented that “the grain supply is overall loose” and “wheat and rice inventories are at a relatively high level. The director warned that some local areas have imbalances that need to be resolved. He warned of a 5-mmt shortage of storage space for summer grain crops in Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan, and Hubei Provinces. The director also warned that the quality of some grain held in storage for a long time had declined.

The Grain Administration director also noted pressure from imported grains. He also observed that consumer demand is shifting toward higher quality grain. Consequently, prices for high quality rice are rising, but reserves hold large volumes of common rice that is not in demand.

A survey of Zhejiang Province rice farmers carried out in June 2017 by the province's Price Bureau found that local officials are struggling to set rice prices to balance various factors. Zhejiang is a highly urbanized province where much of the land is too mountainous to grow rice. Zhejiang produces only 36 percent of its grain needs. Because production costs are high in Zhejiang, the local government contracts with farmers to buy rice for local reserves at a premium price that exceeds the price in neighboring provinces, and it gives cash awards. If the price is not set high enough, farmers will shift their land into growing vegetables, melons, tree saplings, and raising shrimp. Some large-scale farmers abandoned their rented land. In one county, the number of large scale farmers fell half in two years--from 124 in 2015 to 64 this year. On the other hand, if the price is set too high the province will receive a flood of grain from other provinces and from overseas.

According to the Zhejiang Price Bureau, rice makes up 62 percent of the province's grain reserve, while wheat is 26 percent, corn is 8 percent, and soybeans and other grain make up 4%. Officials tend to buy early rice for the reserve because it is easy to store. Specialized rice farmers can make a profit growing two rice crops a year. Authorities buy a large proportion of the early rice crop, while farmers tend to use the late crop for their own consumption. Early rice comprises 26 percent of the reserve in Zhejiang even though it is not popular with consumers. Late rice is 11 percent of reserves and japonica rice 25 percent.

The Zhejiang Price Bureau says the province's grain reserves are "saturated," and the grain imposes a fiscal burden. One local grain reserve management company sold rice from reserves last year at 110 yuan per 50 kg, but new rice was purchased at 133 yuan per 50 kg. The financial losses incurred by these reserve companies are greater and greater, the Bureau's report said.

An official from Zhejiang's Grain Bureau said last month that consumers in Zhejiang have gained a preference for japonica rice purchased from neighboring Jiangsu Province in recent years. The official explained that Jiangsu rice tastes better than imported rice--which is predominantly indica rice.

The comments were made at a meeting of commercial officials from the Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai where arrangements are made to trade goods among the three adjacent provinces. An official from Shaoxing City explained that his grain bureau has an arrangement to procure rice from Suqian and Nantong in Jiangsu. A grain official from northern Jiangsu said the government holds periodic meetings to arrange deals among grain-producing and consuming regions. His prefecture arranged sales of 400,000 metric tons of wheat and 1 million metric tons of wheat at meetings held last year. Farmers in his province have adopted rice varieties popular in southern Jiangsu and Shanghai to meet the demands. He said they had to build temperature-controlled storage units to convince Zhejiang buyers to take their rice.

The Shaoxing official also explained that local farmers are paid a bonus of 30 yuan per 50 kg for early rice (23 percent of this year's national minimum) and 20 yuan per 50 kg for late rice (14.7 percent of this year's minimum price) for delivering rice to local reserves. Farmers in Jiangsu's Suzhou City--which also produces less than 40 percent of its grain--also receive premium prices for growing japonica rice.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Xi Jinping's Rural Policy Thought

Recent communist party descriptions of Xi Jinping's thoughts and discourse on rural policies assure the comrades that their "Core Leader" is a genuine Marxist committed to maintaining state control over the major factors of production--land and credit. Furthermore, he wants to build the rural economy on bureaucratic organizations created during the failed collectivization of farms 50 years ago. Xi's "innovation" is to experiment with work-arounds for a countryside handcuffed to these institutions and to pour in generous subsidies to keep it afloat. Prices are more flexible under Xi, but farm prices can't be allowed to fall enough to create unrest. Resources are reallocated through vast bureaucratic "supply side adjustment" policies to address massive imbalances between supply and demand of commodities created by inflexible prices. Bureaucrats are expected to pass along all the subsidy cash without giving in to the temptation to steal it. The bottom line for all these policies is to keep the communist party firmly in control.

Chinese news media have been burnishing Xi Jinping's credentials and achievements as the country's top leader ahead of the 19th communist party congress this month which is expected to be grant him another 5-year term atop the party. Two recent meetings held in Beijing praised Xi's rural thoughts and his important sayings on agricultural and rural affairs during his first term as maximum leader. More insight comes from an essay in a communist party journal.

A forum on "Xi Jinping's Rural Thought and Foundational Practice" held September 25, 2017 in Beijing emphasized preservation of two sacred communist institutions: collective land ownership and cooperatives. These thoughts were summarized as "two relations":
  • "the relationship between rural people and the land": China must stick to collective ownership of rural land as the "bottom line" of reform, and explore methods of reforming farming business operations around that non-negotiable institution.
  • "the relationship between people and the market": rural people must enter the market  organized as members of cooperatives following a so-called "3-in-1" system of production cooperatives, cooperatives for input supply and marketing products, and rural credit cooperatives.
Xi favors a central role for the supply and marketing cooperatives (供销合作社) and rural credit cooperatives (信用合作社) which are actually sprawling bureaucracies masquerading as "cooperatives." These organizations were established 50 years ago to finance collective farms, supply them with inputs, and market their output. After rescuing them from bankruptcy during the last decade, the plan is to make these institutions key providers of financial and technical services to farmers.

The September meeting called for focusing on the collective economy to organize rural people so they can "break into the market economy together" and "provide their own public goods and services." "By integrating the collective economy with cooperative finance," the conference concluded, "rural grass roots communist party organizations can lead rural people jointly into wealth."

A 2-day July conference on rural policies hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture's Research Center for Rural Economy was attended by scholars and officials from top ministries, think tanks, and universities. The conference's description gushed over Comrade Xi Jinping's new theory, policy, and practice adapted to the new situation in China's countryside. Xi's "theory" amounts to buzzwords--"green", "supply side", "shared," "open," "precise"--that sound good but are never defined, so the words can mean whatever leaders want them to.

The July meeting identified institutional reforms of rural land and property rights, reform of the agricultural price formation system, reform of agricultural policy support, and innovations in agricultural business operations as Xi's achievements. Agricultural supply-side structural reform got initial results, transformation of the mode of agricultural development was accelerated, while "green" agricultural development, "shared" development, and "open" development also made progress. This meeting highlighted the beautification of the countryside and "clear results" from "precise" poverty alleviation that is industry-driven and ecological.

The institutional reforms entail efforts to scale up farms and make them more productive while maintaining collective land ownership. Farm business forms as alternatives to small-scale subsistence farms--such as family farms, land cooperatives, and land trusts--are necessitated as work-arounds when land cannot be bought, sold, or mortgaged and when property rights are vaguely defined. Reform of the price formation mechanism means abandoning price supports in favor of market prices and cash subsidies. Supply side reform is a program to undo huge market distortions created by the price supports (surpluses of corn, rice, and wheat that match the deficit of soybeans) without letting prices fall too far too fast. Similarly, the government was forced into "green" development by embarrassments such as bright green lakes, dead pigs floating in rivers, and cadmium-tainted rice. The massive environmental problems created by chemical fertilizer runoff, nonexistent regulation of livestock, and ignoring the hazards of farming, mining, and metal-smelting side-by-side got so bad they could no longer be ignored.

In January 2017, an essay by Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu in the communist party's journal Seeking Truth described Xi's "new thought, new theory, and new judgments" for rural policy.
Slogans that repeat certain words are the life blood of Chinese officials, including the oft-repeated pledge to subsidize the "three rurals" (rural people, the countryside, and agriculture). Minister Han recited three sets of three-character aphorisms that Xi Jinping used to explain his "three rural" commitment:
  • "Three musts" articulated at the 2013 rural work meeting: “For China to be strong, agriculture must be strong; for China to be beautiful, the countryside must be beautiful; for China to be rich, rural people must be rich.”
  • "Three cannots" pronounced during an inspection of an ethnic Korean area in Jilin Province during 2015: "We cannot at any time ignore agriculture; we cannot forget rural people; we cannot be indifferent to the countryside." 
  • "Three unwaverings" stated during a symbolic visit to Anhui's Xiaogang village: "Unwavering deepening of rural reform, unwavering development of the countryside, unwavering preservation of rural and harmonious stability.  
Minister Han praised Xi's ability to come up with pithy sayings that are easy to understand, such as, "At all times the rice bowl of the Chinese people must be held in their own hands," and "If you want to know whether our society has reached the stage of being moderately well off, take a look at the countryside." This communication skill is based on Comrade Xi's extensive experience working in the countryside, Minister Han said.

Minister Han's essay focused on assuring the rural peasantry that the communist party leadership is concerned about their interests and will not let them fall behind. In particular, the concern about narrowing income differences between rural and urban people means that leaders are very careful about decontrolling farm prices. They waited too long to cancel cotton and corn price supports, and they are being very cautious in reducing rice and wheat support prices because they are worried about the impact on rural incomes.

Communist party officials were warned in the July meeting and in Minister Han's essay to take their responsibility seriously and they were admonished to strengthen their sense of urgency and sense of mission to implement the party's rural policies. 

While not stated explicitly in these texts, Xi's signature anticorruption campaign may be his most critical initiative. Xi's campaign to reform communist party cadres down to the grass roots to restore the confidence of the common people in communist party rule is a struggle that began with rural tax and fee reform in the 1990s. Central authorities banned local tyrants from taxing villagers and instead started sending subsidies and budget transfers down to the countryside to win back the favor of the common people.

The Xi approach empowers a bureaucracy of men and women to make decisions about resource allocation and expects them to distribute billions in subsidies without succumbing to the temptation to skim off the money or use their power to solicit bribes and patronage. There have been a string of reports about rural officials disciplined for skimming subsidy funds and submitting fake reports to inflate their subsidies. Ahead of last week's National Day holiday, officials were warned against "high-end" consumption of expensive liquor, cars, palatial buildings, 5-star hotels, and extravagant office furniture.

The party's attention to the countryside is driven in large part by their worry that unrest in the countryside could produce a rural uprising or movement that could challenge their authority. This explains the Party's obsession with "organizing" farmers -- from the top down. Leaders fear truly spontaneous self-organized farmer organizations could morph into a competing political movement, so they are obsessed with incorporating cooperatives into trustworthy communist party-controlled bureaucracies. While the communist party has a nominal organization extending down to villages, the party's control of the countryside remains tenuous, with clans, business leaders, organized crime syndicates and religious groups having de facto power in many local areas.

Chinese explanations of Xi's rural policies emphasize that China needs unique and extensive policy interventions to address the unique problems in China, but the struggle between rural and urban interests is common to all industrializing societies. The United States had a disruptive agrarian movement during the 19th century which began as a farmer cooperative movement intended to help impoverished backward farmers gain equal footing in an era of rapid industrialization. It became a chaotic, sometimes violent, and politically forceful national movement--exactly what Chinese communists fear in their countryside today.

The American agrarian movement eventually morphed into rural populism that became a potent political force by the early 20th century and contributed to many reforms.  It could be argued that the disruption of the 19th century agrarian movement created the conditions for the strong economic and social position American farmers enjoy today -- and which Chinese leaders envy -- through advocacy for railroad regulation, a huge Department of Agriculture, education and technical assistance for farmers, extension services, subsidies and credit programs.

China's communist leaders are keeping a tight rein on all rural organizations and pouring subsidies into the countryside to avert the type of chaos and strife that dominated the 19th century countryside in the United States. But doesn't Marxist dialectical theory suggest that disruption and conflict are necessary to bring about a synthesis in order to improve the status of the oppressed?

If Marx was right, the obsession of China's "communists" with order and control may be dooming their rural population to eternal peasantry. Perhaps the Marxists of China should study a little Marxism instead of making up clever 3-character slogans to pass off as "thought."