By Judith Bergman
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recently warned that China’s interest in the agriculture of the United States poses both a serious economic challenge and a security risk to the United States.
China sits on 7-9% percent of the world’s arable land, 294 million acres, but is home to nearly 20% (1.4 billion in 2020) of the global population (nearly 8 billion in 2022). By comparison, the US has more than 375 million acres of arable land and a population of 329.5 million.
China has sought to resolve its dilemma of achieving food security by buying up farmland and agricultural businesses abroad on a huge scale, including in the United States, and by seeking to advance its own agricultural technology, including through theft of US agricultural technology.
“The Chinese government’s domestic efforts, however, are not enough to solve China’s problems, “the USSC report noted.
“Recognizing its challenges, China has also gone abroad to address its needs through investments and acquisitions of farmland, animal husbandry, agricultural equipment, and intellectual property (IP), particularly of GM [genetically modified] seeds. The United States is a global leader in all of these fields, making it a prime trading partner and often a target of China’s efforts to strengthen its agriculture sector and food security, sometimes through illicit means. These efforts present several risks to U.S. economic and national security. Chinese companies’ acquisition of hog herds in the United States may save China money and enhance its domestic capacity; however, this could also reduce China’s need for U.S.-sourced production and redistributes the environmental effects of hog waste to U.S. communities. If further consolidations and Chinese investments in U.S. agricultural assets take place, China may have undue leverage over U.S. supply chains. China’s access to U.S. agricultural IP may also erode U.S. competitiveness in agriculture technology that supports food production. Additionally, China’s illicit acquisitions of GM seeds provides a jumpstart to China’s own development of such seeds, deprives U.S. companies of revenue, and offers an opportunity to discover vulnerabilities in U.S. crops.”
The more US agricultural technology China acquires, especially through theft, in order to become dominant in the agritech field, the worse the US will fare when it comes to selling its own technology, whether to China or third countries. One of the focus areas of the Made in China 2025 plan to become a world leader in technology and high-tech manufacturing is agricultural machinery such as high-end tractors and harvesters. The specific goal is for China to be able to satisfy 95% of its demand for agricultural machinery with equipment that is manufactured in China. According to the USCC report, those policies, underpinned in part by technological theft, have negatively affected US exports to China of agricultural equipment.
“In 2013, U.S. agricultural equipment sent to China totaled nearly $27 million,” the USSC found.
“In 2015, the year the Made in China 2025 policy was introduced, exports were at about $16 million and have since dropped to around $9 million in 2021.” This has serious implications for US competitiveness, especially because it may also affect US exports to third countries, who may now prefer to buy their agricultural equipment at a lower price from China, where labor costs are minimal.
China has been expanding its ownership of US land over the past decade from 13,720 acres in 2010 to 352,140 acres in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). China’s largest purchase in the US agriculture sector so far has been Smithfield Foods in 2013, the largest pork producer in the US. China’s WH Group — a state-owned company, which began as a meatpacking business in China — owns it today. At the time of the sale, Smithfield had 25 U.S. plants, 460 farms, and contracts with 2,100 producers in 12 states and the ownership of Smithfield accounted for more than 146,000 acres of US land.
The 352,140 acres that China owns in the US — 192,000 of them agricultural acres, and the rest “other” land — is a small amount compared to how much land countries like Canada and the Netherlands own in the US. Canada, for instance, owns 4.7 million acres, while the Netherlands owns 4.6 million acres. Canada and the Netherlands, however, do not constitute threats to the US, nor are they trying to dominate the world.
“The trend is what is most concerning about the almost 200,000 acres,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said.
“At first, you look at China’s acreage here and think it is small, but that has almost all been acquired in the past decade. You also have to couple the acreage with the fact that the CCP’s stated goal is to remake the world according to their benefit. The trend is for them to continue buying our assets and it has to stop before it becomes an even bigger problem.”
The Chinese have not stopped at land, but have expanded their operations to include livestock and grain.
Read the rest of the article here: Gatestone Institute