BEIJING--China's rice imports shot up fourfold in 2012 over the previous year and wheat and corn imports tripled, as rapid economic growth and improved diets fueled consumption.
Government officials tried to assuage fears that a large increase in consumption would lead China to gorge on the global food supply.
"Domestic food production has seen nine straight years of increased revenues," one official said.
But even so, China imported a record 2.316 million tons of rice in 2012.
According to officials at the Agriculture Ministry, until two years ago rice imports mainly consisted of the expensive "fragrant rice" from Thailand that was preferred by many well-heeled Chinese.
However, when the government raised the buying price for domestic rice as a way of raising farmers' incomes and maintaining food self-sufficiency, companies began seeking out cheaper imported rice for processing purposes.
The Commerce Ministry issued a statement Jan. 30 about the increase in rice imports and explained that Chinese imports only accounted for 6.2 percent of total world trade. It noted that the imports represented only 1.6 percent of domestic production.
"There is no basis to the thinking that this will lead to a global food crisis," the statement said.
According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, however, Chinese rice consumption in 2012 reached 144 million tons, which was 1 million tons above the domestic production level. Both figures were the highest in the world.
Corn imports in 2012 reached 5.21 million tons, while wheat imports totaled 3.69 million tons, both threefold increases over the previous year.
The increases were due not only to greater domestic consumption, but also because there was an increase in the stockpiling of corn. And according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, the rise in wheat imports came from companies increasing purchases mainly for feed because imported wheat was cheaper than the domestic product.
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