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Country sees surging imports of cattle

By  Li Xiaoshu (Global Times)

08:06, June 21, 2012

China's surging imports of high-quality foreign dairy cattle are unlikely to turn the country into a dominant milk producer, leading experts warned yesterday, even though a growing number of Chinese dairy producers are buying up high-producing foreign cows.

"Improving farming conditions and promoting technological innovation are the best ways to upgrade the industry," Wang Dingmian, chairman of the Guangzhou Dairy Association, told the Global Times. "Acquiring more foreign cattle does not necessarily lead to higher dairy output or quality."

The dairy sector in China faces "imbalanced regional development that creates huge waste of resources, as well as raising processing and transportation costs," Wang said.

"Dairy farms in China's northern regions contribute 80 percent of the national output, but other areas often suffer supply shortages," Wang noted, suggesting industry planners "work out a reasonable layout of milk farms nationwide."

Wang's views echoed those of Gao Hongbin, vice minister of agriculture, who said Monday at a forum in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, that the industry can no longer increase its productivity merely through growth based on expansion.

China has become the world's biggest buyer of dairy cows, hiking prices for calves and heifers worldwide, market watchers said.

Zhejiang INM Food Co started selling dairy products made from milk from imported cattle last week after it spent 20 million yuan ($3.17 million) on 403 Holstein dairy cows and 31 Jersey cattle selected from 53 Australian farms in 2011, the National Business Daily reported yesterday.

The price for each cow reached 50,000 yuan in the deal, nearly six times the price for dairy cattle bred in China, the newspaper reported.

"The average import price of dairy cattle stands at 30,000 yuan, up nearly 50 percent from the prices five years ago," Chen Lianfang, senior dairy analyst with Beijing-based consulting company CnAgri, told the Global Times.

China's growing cattle imports can ensure growing domestic milk consumption and reshape its dairies following the lethal tainted-milk scandal in 2008, which caused lingering distrust among consumers, according to Chen.

"Importing is a quick fix for the industry as China's 14 million cows are only half as productive as Western ones."

The imports are also driven by government subsidies and companies' profit concerns, said Zhao Ping, deputy director of the Consumer Research Department under the Ministry of Commerce.

The country's dairy cattle imports are expected to reach a record high of 110,000 in 2012, but the trade could slow in five years, said Li Shengli, chief scientist of the National Milk Industry Technology System.

A total of 27,519 heifers worth $7.84 million were shipped to China in the first four months this year, up 8.32 percent year-on-year, according to the General Administration of Customs.

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