Agriculture to Face Challenges

Wu Yunhe

Imports of agricultural products will without a doubt increase to a certain level due to the country's signing of market access agreements with members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) for its entry to the global trade bloc, said a senior agricultural expert.

"China must make some concessions in advance of fully integrating itself into the WTO and the country' some 900 million farmers will meet a severe challenge," said Zhang Shuying, deputy director-general of the Rural Survey Organization of the National Bureau of Statistics.

Chinese-made food products which now are available on the domestic market will have to improve the quality in packaging, the labelled ingredient, hygiene and other aspects in accordance with international standards before selling abroad under the rules of the WTO members' agricultural trade, she said.

Meanwhile, according to U S estimates, China's wheat imports from the United States will increase to 5 million tons annually from the current 2 million tons, making Chinese farmers lose 5.4 billion yuan (US$650 million) a year after the country's entry to the WTO.

The US-made corn, orange and meat products are also expected to take a share of China's agricultural market.

Chinese farmers, who make up more than 70 per cent of the country's population, are not mentally ready to accept the fact that the country's agricultural market will soon become a part of the battlefield for international traders since China and the United States signed a market access agreement on November 15, some agricultural experts said.

The number of surplus rural labourers may increase from about 200 million at present due to stronger agricultural imports, thus aggravating the pressure of the unemployment force in urban areas.

However, the country's port facilities, which are badly in need of upgrade, will become a bottleneck for grain imports, and for the most part of the vast countryside is still somewhat an autarky, where about 900 million farmers can carry out a self-sufficient policy in their daily food supply, Hu Yanan, an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, said.

The entry to the WTO will compel China to improve the quality of agricultural products and help introduce the latest technology, investment and modern operations, said Niu Ruofeng, ex-president of the Institute of Agriculture and Economy attached to the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS).

"It benefits the improvement of the living standards of the Chinese people," said another CAAS official.

Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Shi Guangsheng said that the entry to the WTO will only make the country's opening drive more specific in terms of the content, policy and time span, thus accelerating the development of a socialist market-oriented economy.

Dr. Cheng Guoqiang, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for International Agriculture Trade at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, noted that China can still gain the initiative in the trade of agricultural products with foreign countries.

Cheng said that while most world leaders were hailing a landmark agreement between China and the United States that paves the way for China's entry to the WTO, many officials and economists start to count the country's agricultural gains and losses.

There are some misunderstandings about China's entry to the WTO, with major concern for the interests of the country's vulnerable farmers armed with comparatively backward agro-technology, he said.

"China will have to open wider its market access to foreign-made agricultural products since its entry to the WTO," said Cheng, who is also a senior agricultural expert for negotiations on China's accession into WTO.

However, according to the WTO's agreement on agriculture, China can still implement a tariff-rate quota (TRQ) system to keep the imports of major agricultural products, like grain, cotton and edible oil, at bay during a transition period.

The TRQ refers to the fact that China can implement extra tariffs when imports of some major products surpass a set level during its transition period for its entry to the WTO as a developing country.

(China Daily)

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