Chinese farmers feel WTO pinch, says report
China in the World | Livelihoods | Media
A steep rise in soybean and cotton imports, mainly from the United States, has led to falling prices for Chinese farmers, with the result that “many . . . get almost nothing from the plant[s]” and twenty million have given up farming altogether, according to the November 30 issue of Beijing Review.
The lowering of import tariffs, in line with China’s WTO accession agreements, is also pressuring domestic producers of wheat, rice and vegetables, says the news weekly.
It adds that cheap maize (corn) imports are now starting to soar, driven by growing demand for animal feed but also by new markets for ethanol gasoline, processed from maize. Maize imports have increased 15-fold since last July when the Ministry of Agriculture approved the import of genetically modified, US maize.
While lower prices are bad news for China’s farmers, the magazine notes, they benefit urban consumers and so threaten to further widen urban-rural disparities, even though the government is attempting to cushion the impact with farm subsidies.
However, the magazine also points out that US and European agricultural exports are artificially cheap because of government subsidies that, it says, average USD 21,000 per farm household in the USA and USD 16,000 in Europe.
Beijing Review is an English language publication addressing international readers and its coverage of this issue appears largely geared to answering US complaints of a growing trade deficit with China by pointing out that China is also making sacrifices for the sake of international trade. A front cover announces that an “Ill Wind Blows for Farmers,” and an editorial states that:
"While the U.S. Government complains that their manufacturing industry is losing jobs to China, more than 20 million Chinese farmers have been forced to leave their land to eke out a living elsewhere as a direct result of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.”
Domestic, Chinese language media are giving relatively little coverage to the WTO squeeze on Chinese farmers, perhaps because this could suggest problems for the “new socialist countryside” policy.
However, several Chinese experts consulted by Beijing Review suggest that farmers’ present pain is a necessary spur to “agricultural modernisation,” seen as embracing the adoption of improved technologies, reduction of the rural population and, by implication, expansion of farm size.
Report by Nick Young, December 1, 2006
Note on imports: According to Beijing Review, imports of soybeans rose from 11.34 million tons in 2002 to 26.59 million tons in 2005, against domestic production of 16.35 million tons; while cotton imports leaped from 0.87 million tons in 2003 to 2.57 million tons in 2005. Imported cotton is CNY 2,000 (USD 250) per ton cheaper than domestically produced cotton, and oil derived from imported soybeans is CNY 170 (USD 21) per ton cheaper than oil made from Chinese soybeans.