China's appetite changing the world

By Chen Xia
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 7, 2017
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What first comes to mind when one thinks of China?

Besides the Great Wall and kung fu, the likely answers now might include the Chinese people's appetite, as the Quartz website reported in May: "The amount China spends eating out is greater than the GDP of Sweden."

Poon choi, the main dish on Cantonese dinner tables on the eve of Chinese New Year. [Photo/China Daily]

Poon choi, the main dish on Cantonese dinner tables on the eve of Chinese New Year. [Photo/China Daily]

In 2016, Chinese spent approximately 3.5 trillion yuan (US$507 billion) dining out, according to Dianping and Meituan, two domestic companies offering food-ordering and delivery services. In contrast, the annual GDP of Sweden stood at US$496 billion.

As the world is more connected than ever before, the Chinese people's growing appetite doesn't have domestic influence alone, but also covers the world as a whole, offering tremendous market opportunities.

The latest case in point is Denmark's oyster crisis. On April 24, the Danish Embassy published a story on its official Sina Weibo account (China's twitter-like social network), about giant oysters, a much-loved commodity in China, overrunning Danish beaches.

The post triggered enthusiastic responses among Chinese internet users, who offered special recipes for Danish people and offered to go to Denmark to help consume them. In response, the Danish embassy said they welcome Chinese people to travel to Denmark to help solve the crisis, while also being willing to send the oyster reserves to China.

The Chinese people have already taken action along these lines. In Germany, they managed to help stop a crisis created along the Elbe and Weser rivers, where the crab population sometimes exploded. This was due to the fact Germans never eat crabs and would only use them to feed fish. The crabs thus were able to grow uncurbed.

However, the problem has been easily solved by Chinese people and even created new market opportunities. Because crab dishes are beloved by the Chinese people, Chinese nationals residing in the country rushed to buy crabs from German fishermen. The demand has grown so huge that some local fishing companies have adopted it as a formal business, and some are even considering breeding crabs to sell to China.

In Spain, the Chinese people's appetite has changed the structure of the local agricultural industry. In the 1950s, farmers in the town of El Perello mainly grew tomatoes and potatoes, which are staple vegetables in Europe. However, in the following decades, the local economy became depressed due to technological developments and market competition.

In 1989, at the suggestion of a Chinese descendant, farmers in the town began to grow vegetables for Chinese restaurants and Chinese supermarkets in Europe. The vegetables, such as rape and mustard cabbage (known as kai choy in China), were not seen very often on European dining tables, but had long been favorite foods of the Chinese.

Because of this initiative, the town gained new growth momentum. Today, its vegetables are so popular among the Chinese communities that they are often ordered before even growing ripe.

While German crabs and Spanish vegetables are filling the stomachs of Chinese people overseas, more and more countries have turned their eyes to the gigantic market in China.

"China is projected to return as the United States' top export market in 2017, surpassing Canada as the number one destination for American agricultural goods," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last August.

In the past, soybean was the major agricultural product the United States exported to China. Now, fruits have become increasingly popular, and more and more farmers in Delaware and Georgia are trying to sell their strawberries and peaches to Chinese consumers.

Meanwhile, Chilean fruits had already gained a strong presence in China. In 2007, fruits exported to China only accounted for two percent of Chile's total export volume, but last year, the proportion grew up to 25 percent, while the trade volume was expanding nearly 19-fold. Today, 85 percent of the Chilean cherry crop is sold to China.

The Chinese people seem to have a special love of cherries. Apart from Chilean ones, they also buy a large amount from New Zealand. Today, over 30 percent of New Zealand's cherries are sold to China. To grasp the opportunities of the Chinese Spring Festival, which is the most important festival in China, some orchards in New Zealand even hired helicopters to provide the necessary downdraught to dry the cherries and ensure they can grow ripe in time.

Besides, due to China's huge demand, the wholesale price of beef in Australia has doubled in three years. Noting the opportunities, Australia's rich list such as mining magnate Gina Rinehart, media mogul Kerry Stokes and retail king Gerry Harvey, are snapping up prime farmland to breed cattle. Recently, Gina Rinehart announced her plan to export 800,000 head of cattle to China annually.

The Chinese people's huge demand for food has brought about changes in the world, but also caused widespread concerns over supply deficiencies for local people, the impact on the local environment and the threat to local business.

Such doubts were dismissed by Du Qirui, vice director of the Institute of Overseas Investment, Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation. Du believed China has created tremendous opportunities for other countries amid a sluggish global economy, and all trades were based on free will and have benefitted both sides.

"If any country sees structural changes due to exports to China, the changes are caused by market demand, and are chosen by market entities of the export country in pursuit of maximum profits," Du insisted.

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