China diversifies sources of beef imports

China has beefed up efforts on the diversification of beef imports in 2024, with more exporters in countries such as Australia and Russia having been approved to sell beef to China. Chinese observers said the move will help reduce market fluctuations due to over-reliance on any single market, while providing more opportunities for other countries through high-level opening-up.

The General Administration of Customs (GAC) recently made several announcements about beef imports, expanding the list of beef products that can be imported from Russia while lifting bans on some German beef imports.

Moreover, a number of Australian media outlets have reported that five more major Australian beef exporters have been granted permits to resume exports to China, citing Australian Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.

“Compared with beef imported from the US, Australian beef has advantages in tariffs and prices, and as a result, is more popular in the China market,” a manager with Aochen (Shanghai) Food Technology Co told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The manager said that the company’s imports of Australian beef have been stable despite the halt of some Australian beef exporters’ licenses previously. Russian beef also has price advantages at the moment.

Due to international grain trade uncertainties amid rising geopolitical tensions and trade protectionism, China has deepened food cooperation with other countries so as to diversify imports of agricultural products to ensure import stability. 

China mainly imports beef from countries including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Along with China’s economic recovery, its beef imports continue to rise. According to data released by the GAC, China imported 1 million tons of beef in the first four months of 2024, up 22 percent year-on-year.

In 2023, the country purchased a total of 2.74 million tons of beef, up 1.8 percent year-on-year, hitting a new high.

There is a growing demand for high-quality agricultural products and food as incomes rise on China’s market, Li Guoxiang, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The country is actively building a diversified food supply system, including promoting the diversification of beef imports to meet this consumption trend, Li said.

Li said that the selection of origins for beef imports is market-driven, based on factors such as quality, price and domestic demand. However, he added that “bilateral relations between China and exporting countries can also influence decisions, leading importers to opt for stable and reliable sources to reduce risks.

“In recent years, while the US has abandoned multilateral global trade rules, China has been committed to high-level opening-up to the world, expanding cooperation with developing countries to foster diversification in global trade, and establishing mutually beneficial economic ties,” Li said.

China has been optimizing its selection of imported agricultural products, based on the domestic market’s preference for high-quality goods, Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst at the Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“The decision to prioritize goods from regions other than the US is a rational market-oriented action,” Ma said.

China’s increase in agricultural imports from resource-rich developing countries aligns with market development trends, international trade rules and the principle of maximizing global economic interests, Ma noted.

On the basis of ensuring food security, China’s grain and meat imports inject lasting momentum into global grain security and free trade, and they contribute to the recovery of the sluggish world economy, according to analysts.

They said that China should make better use of both domestic and international markets and strengthen investment in the whole industrial chain including grain production, storage and logistics, as well as processing and procurement, in a bid to ensure the safety, stability and sustainability of international supply chains and enhance the country’s pricing power in the international trade of agricultural products.