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China is contributing to the world economy during the COVID-19 pandemic with strong imports of food, said a top official of the country’s Ministry of Commerce on Saturday at the third China International Import Expo.

China imported US$124.4 billion worth of food in the first nine months of this year, up 13.3 percent from the same period last year, while the country’s total food imports last year was US$90.8 billion, said Ren Hongbin, the assistant commerce minister, at a summit on China’s food imports.

The amount of oil seeds and oil materials, meat, fruit, seafood and milk products imported had the largest growth during the period, Ren said.

“While the imported food and agricultural products are enriching Chinese people’s food choices, they also play a significant role in the recovery of the major food exporters among the world economies,” he commented.

Clare Fearnley, New Zealand ambassador to China, stressed in her address to the summit the importance of conversation and cooperation between food exporters and importers especially during the pandemic. New Zealand exports 90 percent of its food to more than 150 markets around the world, and 30 percent goes to China.

“That New Zealand takes an active part in this year’s CIIE shows our close trade ties with China and our commitment to a trade system based on globally recognized rules,” she said.

As for the trend in the Chinese market for imported food products, Wang Xiaojun, general manager of the pre-packaged food department of JD Group, made a few suggestions to importers.

“Highly educated young women are a major group of consumers of imported food products, and we suggest that importers more actively explore emerging sub-markets in China as interest in such products is rising significantly in lower-tier cities,” he said.

Jerrity Chen, head of the North Asia region of Louis Dreyfus, one of the largest food traders in the world, said his company will work on better pitching the Chinese market to foreign exporters as there exist certain “cultural differences.”

The total amount of food imported into China last year almost doubled the amount of 2015, while the number of countries and regions of origin of China’s imported food increased to 189 as of the end of last year, according to a report on China’s food imports in 2019 released at the summit on Saturday.

The top three categories of imported food in China last year were meat and meat products at US$18.9 billion, sea food and sea food products at US$16.1 billion, and milk products at US$11.6 billion.

Although smaller in volumes, imported dried fruit, nuts, seasoning and spices had the largest growth last year, almost doubling the amount of the previous year, the report showed.

Asian countries remain the largest source of food imports by China last year, totaling US$26.1 billion, followed by European countries whose food exports to China amounted to US$22.2 billion last year.

Shanghai was the second-largest food importer among Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and cities last year, after Guangdong Province, but the largest amount of food imported into China last year entered through Shanghai.

The summit was held by the China Chamber of Commerce of the Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-products.

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