The effects of China’s newfound wealth and tastes are showing up elsewhere in the food business, to the benefit of American exporters. For the first three quarters of 2011, the Agriculture Department saw increases in exports to China in four categories: snack foods, pork, dairy products, and beer and wine.
“You’re seeing the impact of the economic growth in China that has brought much of the population into that middle-
income consuming status,” said Scott Sindelar, Agriculture Department consul at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. “It’s the growing population of middle-income consumers who are changing their food preferences and moving more and more to a meat diet.”
In the snack department, a major American export on the rise has been tree nuts — almonds, pistachios and, more recently, pecans, causing a major transformation in the once-struggling U.S. pecan industry, with more investment and more trees being planted.
Many urban Chinese prefer imported American and other foreign goods — such as dairy products — after a series of scares here over contaminated food.
The U.S. food export figures are seen as something of a success — one of the rare areas in which the United States has a trade surplus with China. And that gap is likely to widen, because China, with its huge population, lacks the arable land and high-tech agribusiness farming techniques of the United States.
But despite that success, some agricultural exports remain hindered by barriers and market restrictions in China.
American chicken feet are being blocked here in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with the United States that involves Chinese tires. American beef has been banned here since 2003, initially because of concerns over mad cow disease — although there has not been a case of the bovine infection for nine years.
Another growing sector for export is U.S.-made pharmaceuticals. As China’s population ages and incomes rise, the demand for imported medicines is expected to increase.
And can the export surge last? Experts said there are worrying signs that China’s economy is experiencing a slowdown, although it remains unclear whether it is slowing faster than China’s economic policymakers would like.
Researcher Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.