China passed the U.S. last year for the first time to become the biggest importer of agricultural products and also increased its exports, according to data by the World Trade Organization.

Imports, including food and beverages, rose 34% to $144.7 billion in 2011 from $108.3 billion in 2010, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released by the Geneva- based trade body. Exports gained 25% to $64.6 billion, beating Canada to become the sixth largest, the data show.

Growth in the second-biggest economy and largest population has boosted demand from soybeans and corn to feed livestock to powdered milk and sugar to make beverages. Urbanization widened China’s water and land shortages, further fueling a global rally in crops amplified by drought-reduced supply.

“Whether it’s rice, wheat or soybeans, China’s needs are huge and they are only going to get bigger, because it can’t produce enough while urbanization is still progressing,” said Li Qiang, the Shanghai-based chairman of commodity researcher Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. The country generally favors importing unprocessed crops to raise animals rather than processed products, he said.

Source: Bloomberg Sept 2012

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