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China's Agricultural Trade: Competitive Conditions and Effects on U.S. Exports

Investigation No. 332-518
USITC Publication 4219


Demand for imported food is growing rapidly in China due to rising incomes, greater urbanization, and the increasing importance of food quality and safety to consumers, reports the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in its new publication.

U.S. farmers and food manufacturers have benefited significantly from rising Chinese imports of several important products, according to the report. However, they continue to face export restrictions created by tariffs, tariff-rate quotas (TRQs), and non-tariff measures (NTMs); some of these measures substantially limit or prohibit certain U.S. agricultural products from entering the Chinese market.

Completed at the request of the Senate Committee on Finance, the report provides an overview of China’s agricultural consumption, production, and trade, including China’s participation in the global export market and in trade agreements. It describes China’s tariffs, TRQs, and NTMs that affect U.S. imports, as well as competitive factors in the Chinese agricultural sector. The study also provides economic modeling analysis of the effects of Chinese tariffs, certain NTMs, and trade agreements on Chinese imports of U.S. products.

The USITC found:

  • The U.S. and Chinese agricultural trade relationship has grown significantly in recent years. China is the world's largest producer and consumer of agricultural products. The United States is the largest supplier of agricultural products to China, and in 2010, China became the United States' second largest buyer, behind Canada.

  • Low labor costs, government support, and trade policies enhance the competitiveness of Chinese agricultural products, while other factors – such as its land tenure system and its fragmented transportation and cold storage infrastructure – weaken it.

  • Chinese agricultural imports from the world are concentrated in a narrow range of products; its exports are concentrated in labor-intensive horticultural items sold to regional markets.

  • China’s NTMs impeded sales of selected U.S. agricultural products in 2009, while its tariffs and TRQs inhibited sales of a broader range of U.S. agricultural products that year.

  • Agriculture accounts for 11 percent of China’s gross domestic product and employs just under half of the population. China is a major global producer of agricultural products and is largely self-sufficient, with the exception of a few key commodities.

  • China’s support for its farm sector has grown substantially since 2004, driven by three main policy objectives: maintaining a high degree of self-sufficiency in grains, raising farmer’s incomes, and promoting rural development.

  • China’s FTAs and preferential trade agreements are largely with trade partners in East Asia and Oceania. Their provisions vary in scope but overall have had a negligible effect on total U.S. agricultural exports.

The USITC’s report is now available at:

Also available on CD-ROM and in print; call 202.205.2000 for more information.