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China to Surpass Japan as Top Corn Buyer: Chart of Day

China to become world's biggest corn importer on meat diet

April 29 (Bloomberg) -- China, which lost its self-sufficiency in corn about five years ago, is on a dietary shift that will make it the world’s largest import market by 2021, overtaking Japan, South Korea and Mexico.

Until 2009, China was able to harvest more corn than it needed except for a few periods of severe drought. This year, the country is expected to import about 2 percent of its consumption, with that proportion rising to 7.2 percent by 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. China’s emergence as a top corn buyer is good news for producers in the U.S., Brazil and Ukraine, which face a demand squeeze amid aging populations elsewhere in Northeast Asia.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows actual and estimated annual corn imports in thousands of metric tons among Japan, South Korea, Mexico and China, based on USDA data updated in April. China will catch up to South Korea around 2018 and overtake Japan, where the population peaked about six years ago, by 2021, the data show. Mexico, whose citizen count is just under Japan’s, will be the second-fastest growing importer. The lower panel compares per-capita consumption of pork, chicken and beef in China and the U.S.

Meat consumption in China has risen 27 percent since 2001, while U.S. consumers have reduced their intake by about 5 percent over the same period -- although the average American still eats about twice the amount of meat as his Chinese counterpart, according to USDA data.

“China’s meat consumption is expected to rise at a pace similar to the trend over the past decade” fueled by the increasingly urban and affluent population, USDA analysts James Hansen and Fred Gale wrote in an April 7 report.

Meat output by China may grow about 30 percent from 2012 to 90 million tons by 2024, they said. About 3 kilograms of feed are needed to produce each kilogram of meat, they estimate. Higher corn demand from China, projected to account for 40 percent of the rise in global corn trade over the next decade, could support U.S. prices, the report said. Corn in Chicago rose 23 percent this year to $5.17 a bushel.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: William Bi in Beijing at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brett Miller at Sungwoo Park, Jarrett Banks

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