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Chinese companies are increasing their investments in foreign agricultural and food assets. Their broad aims are to gain profits for Chinese investors while achieving national food security and projecting China’s influence abroad. While the United States is the largest supplier of China’s agricultural imports, it has not been a major target of Chinese agricultural investment. Chinese investors tend to enter less-developed countries where there are few competitors, potential to raise productivity using Chinese technology, and potential to diversify suppliers of Chinese imports. A few companies with access to financing from Chinese banks are pursuing mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships with companies in more developed markets. These investments reflect changes in China’s demand for food and its need for upgrades in technology and management, but most ventures have modest impacts on agricultural trade.
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United States Department of Agriculture
Economic
Research
Service
Economic
Information
Bulletin
Number 192
April 2018
China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments
Elizabeth Gooch and Fred Gale
Economic Research Service
www.ers.usda.gov
United States Department of Agriculture
Recommended citation format for this publication:
Gooch, Elizabeth and Fred Gale. China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments, EIB-192,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, April 2018.
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United States Department of Agriculture
Economic
Research
Service
Economic
Information
Bulletin
Number 192
April 2018 Abstract
Chinese companies are increasing their investments in foreign agricultural and food
assets. Their broad aims are to gain profits for Chinese investors while achieving
national food security and projecting China’s influence abroad. While the United States
is the largest supplier of China’s agricultural imports, it has not been a major target of
Chinese agricultural investment. Chinese investors tend to enter less-developed coun-
tries where there are few competitors, potential to raise productivity using Chinese tech-
nology, and potential to diversify suppliers of Chinese imports. A few companies with
access to financing from Chinese banks are pursuing mergers, acquisitions, and partner-
ships with companies in more developed markets. These investments reflect changes in
China’s demand for food and its need for upgrades in technology and management, but
most ventures have modest impacts on agricultural trade.
Keywords: China, foreign direct investment, FDI, going global, investment, acquisition,
greenfield, agriculture, food industries, supply chain, food security
Acknowledgments
The authors thank Steven Zahniser and Chang Hong of the USDA, Economic Research
Service (ERS), David Ortega of Michigan State University, Hui Jiang of the USDA,
Foreign Agricultural Service, and an anonymous peer reviewer for their comments and
insight. Thanks also to ERS editor Courtney Knauth and ERS designer Cynthia A. Ray.
China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments
Elizabeth Gooch and Fred Gale
ii
China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments, EIB-192
USDA, Economic Research Service
Summary .....................................................................iii
Introduction ....................................................................1
Review of Chinese Investments ....................................................3
Diverse Investments ............................................................3
Tracking the Rise in Investment ..................................................5
The Rationale for Investment ....................................................9
Policy Support for “Go Global” ...................................................15
Targeting Commodities, Regions, and Companies ...................................18
Targeting Commodities To Address Import Reliance .................................18
Target Regions for Chinese Outward FDI in Agriculture and Food .....................21
Southeast Asia ...............................................................23
Russia ......................................................................26
Latin America and the Caribbean ................................................28
Australia and New Zealand .....................................................32
Africa ......................................................................33
A Strategic Shift to Mergers and Acquisitions .......................................35
COFCO ....................................................................35
Bright Foods .................................................................37
New Hope Group .............................................................38
WH Group/Shuanghui .........................................................39
Challenges Encountered in Mergers and Acquisitions .................................42
Discussion and Conclusions ......................................................43
References ....................................................................45
Contents
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United States Department of Agriculture
A report summary from the Economic Research Service April 2018
China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments
Elizabeth Gooch and Fred Gale
What Is the Issue?
Chinese companies are increasing their investments in foreign agricultural and food assets at
a rapid pace. A better understanding of the motivations behind these ventures and their size
and impacts can help Government officials, farmers, business leaders, and other stakeholders
in the United States and other countries make more informed policies and business decisions
regarding these investments.
What Did the Study Find?
According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture, over 1,300 Chinese enterprises had overseas
investments in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries valued at $26 billion in 2016. The investments
include crop and livestock farming, fishing, processing, farm machinery, inputs, seeds, and
logistics in over 100 countries. China’s National Bureau of Statistics reports that foreign invest-
ment in farming, forestry, and fishing grew fivefold from 2010 to 2016. Increasing reliance on
food imports, concerns about national food security, and a rising stock of foreign reserves are
among the factors that propelled growth in outbound investment.
Chinese officials have ambitious strategic plans for agricultural investments to reshape patterns
of agricultural trade and increase China’s influence in global markets. Foreign investment in
agricultural and food sectors is part of a broader initiative to encourage Chinese companies to
become economically competitive by engaging in international markets. Since the first decade
of this century, Chinese officials have given stronger encouragement to agricultural companies
to invest abroad. While investors are chiefly motivated by profits, Government authorities and
banks formulate strategic plans, broker deals, arrange credit, and supply training and informa-
tion services to encourage foreign investments. These investments contribute to national food
security, gain a greater share of the profits for Chinese companies from imported commodities,
exert influence on global price determination, impart technical and managerial expertise, open
new markets for Chinese products, and project political influence abroad.
While China’s foreign investment in agriculture is growing rapidly, global news media often
exaggerate its role. A number of studies have found that the scale of many Chinese agricultural
projects falls far short of initial announcements. Chinese researchers have found that few proj-
ects were profitable and relatively few investors exported products back to China as planned.
The researchers attributed poor results to factors such as inexperience in global markets, lack of
language skills, local bureaucracy, corruption, and political instability.
www.ers.usda.gov
United States Department of Agriculture
Economic
Research
Service
Economic
Information
Bulletin
Number 192
April 2018
China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments
Elizabeth Gooch and Fred Gale
Summary
Most of China’s foreign agricultural projects involve relatively small companies investing in neighboring
countries in Southeast Asia, Russia’s Far East, and Africa that have unexploited land and are often receptive
to Chinese investment. Agricultural investment is now closely tied to China’s One Belt One Road initiative,
which targets countries between China and Western Europe. Chinese companies seeking sources of dairy,
beef, and lamb imports have focused their investments and partnerships on New Zealand and Australia.
Apart from the large 2013 acquisition of Smithfield Foods, relatively little Chinese investment has targeted
U.S. agriculture. Statistics for 2014 show that North America received only 2 percent of China’s farming,
forestry, and fishing investment, the smallest share of any continent. A database that tracks Chinese invest-
ments in the United States shows only two-to-three investments in agriculture and food annually, most valued
at less than $10 million. Statistics tracking foreign farmland holdings in the United States show 12-to-25
Chinese acquisitions annually during 2008-13.
Many of the investors seek to profit from growing consumer demand in China. Investments in the dairy
and beef sectors in New Zealand and Australia, for example, have gained prominence as imports of animal
protein increased. Many ventures have a mix of foreign aid and commercial objectives. Chinese officials are
encouraging further foreign-aid-type investments in less-developed countries as part of their One Belt One
Road initiative (a China-sponsored development strategy focused on connectivity and cooperation between
Eurasian countries).
The report’s extensive review shows that Chinese foreign investment strategies are shifting away from land
purchases toward mergers and acquisitions. For example, COFCO—a state-owned agribusiness—embodies
new tactics aimed at gaining more control over commodity trading, processing, and logistics. Bright Foods—
another state-owned company— exemplifies the conglomerate approach of assembling various companies
and brands under one umbrella. The WH Group—a privately owned company in China’s fragmented pork
industry—acquired Smithfield Foods, the worlds largest pork processor, known for its swine-breeding and
pork-processing capabilities. New Hope Group—China’s largest animal feed company—has diversified its
investments from feed mills in neighboring countries to joint ventures with Australian and New Zealand part-
ners to meet growing demand for animal protein in China.
Chinese investments in countries other than the United States could influence the U.S. share of the Chinese
market for certain commodities like dairy products and beef. However, the United States’ abundant endow-
ment of productive farmland, leadership in agricultural technology, efficient management and marketing, and
skilled and experienced managers are all advantages that may help it retain its role as China’s leading supplier
of agricultural imports, regardless of where Chinese companies choose to invest.
How Was the Study Conducted?
This study examines China’s strategy for foreign direct investment in the agricultural and food sectors.
While most investigations rely on English news media reports and interviews in particular regions, this study
draws upon extensive discussion of strategies and how they have evolved over time as revealed in Chinese
sources. The report reviewed a broad selection of Chinese speeches, reports, and news media to gain insights
concerning China’s rationale and policy support for outward investment in agriculture. The report also
synthesizes trends in China’s agricultural imports, examples of investments drawn from company reports
and news media, and databases of investments for certain countries and regions to help readers evaluate the
Chinese investment program.
www.ers.usda.gov
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China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments, EIB-192
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China’s Foreign Agriculture Investments
Introduction
China’s outward investment strategy has attracted significant attention. China was the world’s
second-leading foreign investor in 2014, and the country is projected to spend $1 to $2 trillion on
outward foreign direct investment (FDI) during 2015-25 (Paulson, 2016; Rosen and Hanemann,
2012). China’s outbound FDI reflects a transition from “bringing in” capital and technology to a new
stage where Chinese companies also “go out” or “go global” to play an active, assertive role in world
affairs and the global economy (Shambaugh, 2013; Williamson and Raman, 2011).
China’s foreign investments have included hundreds of agriculture- and food-related ventures
involving dozens of commodities on every continent. Observers and targets of these investments are
often puzzled about the motivations and objectives and the level of government support received by
Chinese investors. Chinese agricultural investments are alternately viewed as state-sponsored “land
grabs” and as benign commercial transactions.
China’s agricultural investment initiative is an important development for U.S. farms, agribusiness,
and policymakers since the United States is the leading supplier of China’s agricultural imports
(Gale, Hansen, and Jewison, 2015). Will Chinese companies invest in U.S. farms and agribusinesses,
or will investment be focused on other countries? Does this investment pose an opportunity or a
threat for U.S. agricultural industries? Will Chinese investments affect U.S. policies and initiatives?
Chinese investments in foreign agriculture have prompted widespread attention and discussion in
the news media, but literature on this growing trend is limited and provides only fragmentary infor-
mation. Previous investigations (Brautigam and Zhang, 2009; Meyers and Jie, 2015; KPMG, 2015;
Oliveira, 2015) found that international news media reports tend to overstate the extent of outward
Chinese investment in agriculture and often mischaracterize its role. The Economist Intelligence
Unit (2010) profiled mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies but included no discussion of
agriculture.1 Other authors have limited their analyses to aspects of the topic. Economy and Levi
(2014) discussed China’s investment in resource-based industries. Brautigam and Tang (2009)
and Brautigam and Zhang (2013) investigated China’s role in African agriculture; KPMG (2013)
discussed investment in Australian agriculture; and Oliveira (2015) reported on Chinese investments
in Brazilian agriculture. Gooch and Gale (2015) discussed some issues related to China’s rising over-
seas agricultural investment.
Since there are no comprehensive data or rigorous studies of China’s agricultural outbound invest-
ments, this report synthesizes various types of information to help readers understand and evaluate
the Chinese investment program. Like Shambaughs (2013) overview of China’s “go global” strategy
for international trade and governance, the current study investigates the strategic thinking of
Chinese officials. Our study is based on a review of all available information sources in both English
and Chinese to make a balanced assessment of China’s investment program. The study draws upon
Chinese sources that are not accessible to the non-Chinese-reading public—Chinese Government
surveys and reports, Chinese news media, policy documents, and compilations of investments for
1The Economist Intelligence Unit is a company engaged in market analysis and forecasting affiliated with The
Economist magazine.
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various countries and regions—to discern China’s strategic objectives and policy support for agricul-
tural investment abroad. While it is difficult to draw strong conclusions about the impacts of Chinese
agricultural investment, the report discusses some possible implications for U.S. agriculture.
The following sections provide detailed information on patterns of investment, China’s strategic
thinking, and policy support for investments in agricultural and food sectors around the world.
Further sections review the development of the investment strategy and its supporting policies and
discuss commodity-targeting, regional patterns of investment, and merger and acquisition strategies.
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Review of Chinese Investments
Diverse Investments
According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture, the country had over 1,300 agricultural, forestry, and
fisheries enterprises with registered overseas investments valued at 180 billion yuan ($26 billion2)
at the end of 2016 (Farmer’s Daily , 2017a). The investments included crop and livestock farming,
fishing, processing, farm machinery, inputs, seeds, and logistics in over 100 countries.3
Table 1 lists a selection of recent investments that illustrate the diverse mix of commodities and
regions targeted by Chinese companies, including palm oil and natural rubber plantations in
Southeast Asia, soybean and rapeseed farms in eastern Russia, dairy and beef operations in New
Zealand and Australia, and alfalfa farms in the United States and Bulgaria. Most investments are
made by relatively small companies in countries that neighbor China or in Africa, but the scope
has expanded to include a variety of commodities and countries on every continent. More recently,
Chinese companies, bolstered by greater financial resources, have acquired other companies to gain
a foothold in particular markets like pork, dairy, or olive oil. Access to technology or management
expertise appears to play a role in some acquisitions. Other acquisitions focus on agricultural trading
and logistics companies, reflecting a shift in tactics toward gaining control over all links of the
supply chain for imports and creating large multinational agricultural trading companies (Hu, 2013;
Quer et al., 2010; Meng et al., 2016).
Qiu et al. (2013) estimated that 47 companies they surveyed rented or purchased a total of 983,000
hectares of land overseas. These included large state-owned companies like COFCO and China
Agricultural Development Group, companies affiliated with provincial authorities like Chongqing
Grain Group and Jilin Province Overseas Agriculture Investment Co., and 38 companies affili-
ated with provincial state farm systems. Another survey of 36 companies (Song and Zhang, 2014)
revealed the diversity of investors in overseas agricultural projects but did not attempt to aggregate
the data. Our analysis below draws on the insights from these surveys about the motivations of
investors and problems they encountered.
Much of the discussion of Chinese agricultural investments is based on compilations of international
news media reports by organizations like Landmatrix.com and grain.org. However, several investi-
gations have found that Chinese acquisitions of land were much less than reported, including field
investigations in Africa by Brautigam and Tang (2009) and Brautigam and Zhang (2013), exami-
nations of Latin American investments by Meyers and Jie (2015), and Australian investments by
KPMG (2015). Oliveira (2015) could only confirm a handful of Chinese investments reported in
Brazil’s soybean sector, and he cited the diversion of investments through third countries and opaque
Chinese data as barriers to monitoring Chinese investments.
2Based on the official exchange rate in December 2016.
3The Ministry reported these totals in a news media release; the underlying statistics have not been made publicly
available to verify these totals. As discussed below, smaller investment totals for farming, forestry, and fishing are
commonly reported.
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Table 1
Examples of Chinese overseas agricultural investments
Commodity Chinese companies Location Investments
Palm oil Julong Group Indonesia Developed 50,000 ha plantation on Kalimantan
Island and a crushing plant built in 2011.
ZTE Energy Indonesia Two plantations totaling 30,000 ha in central and
western Kalimantan Island. ZTE has four Indone-
sian ventures.
Olive oil Bright Foods Italy Majority stake in Salov Group, an Italian olive oil
producer with a distribution network reaching 60
countries.
Rapeseed, sun-
flower seed oil
Hengda Group, Heng-
sheng Grain and Oils
Group
Russia Manzhouli City, Inner Mongolia officials arranged
a partnership with Russian suppliers to import
oilseeds and grains for processing and distribution
in China.
Soybeans COFCO* South America,
Europe
During 2014-15, COFCO acquired agribusiness
companies Noble Agri and Nidera with assets in 29
countries.
Dairy Shanghai Pengxin New Zealand Purchased dairy farms covering more than 10,000
ha and built an infant formula processing facility.
Beef Shandong Delisi Food
Company
Australia Purchased 45-percent share of Bindaree Beef,
including a feedlot and processing plant.
Pork WH Group (Shuanghui) United States Acquired Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork
producer.
Corn China Complete Engi-
neering Corporation
Ukraine In 2012-13, negotiated contracts with Ukrainian
suppliers to export Ukrainian corn to the Middle
East, North Africa, and China.
Alfalfa Escalante Ranch United States Two Chinese entrepreneurs purchased a 22,000-ha
ranch to export alfalfa to China.
Tianjin State Farm Bulgaria Joint venture with Mel Investment Holdings renting
20,000 ha to grow corn, alfalfa, and sorghum.
Cassava Guangxi State Farm Vietnam Modified starch processing with planned capacity of
100,000 metric tons.
Sugar COMPLANT
International
Jamaica Purchased three processing facilities and planta-
tions and agreed to lease more than 100,000 acres
of government land.
Sugar Rui Feng International
Co.
Cambodia Mill and plantation will export sugar to Europe and
China.
*COFCO = China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation; ha = hectares.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service compilation of information from company websites and news media reports.
Studies by Chinese analysts have found that overseas agricultural investments encounter numerous
barriers that curb their growth. Companies surveyed by Qiu et al. (2013) cultivated only 12.8 percent
of the land they acquired overseas and invested only 5 percent of the amount they had planned
due to unforeseen barriers and lack of financing. Chen et al. (2009), Qiu et al. (2013), and Song
and Zhang (2014) found that most Chinese overseas investment projects in agriculture had low or
negative profits. The studies cited inexperience in global markets, lack of technical personnel, poor
language skills, problems with local bureaucracy, political instability, corruption, and restrictions
on immigration as reasons for poor performance. Chinese investors in overseas agricultural proj-
ects complained that projects were often undermined by high tariffs in host countries on imports
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of fertilizer and farm machinery and poor local infrastructure (Qiu et al., 2013; Song and Zhang,
2014). Song and Zhang found that some investment decisions were based on statistics that exagger-
ated the potential for overseas projects. Oliveiras (2015) investigations of Chinese investments in
the Brazilian soybean sector found that plans were scaled back due to political developments in both
countries, financial losses, clashes over business strategy, and a lawsuit.
While China’s outward investment focuses largely on gaining access to resources to produce for
the Chinese market, Chinese investors appear to sell most of the products from overseas ventures
in the host country. In a survey of 47 Chinese investors operating overseas, Qiu et al. (2013) found
that only 10 percent of the 352,000 metric tons (mt) of the grain they produced in 2011 was sold in
China—most was sold in the host country. Both Qiu et al. and Song and Zhang (2014) found that
investors encountered numerous obstacles to exporting products back to China, including export
taxes in the host country and an absence of export protocols between the host country and China.
Moreover, most companies were not able to obtain allocations of Chinese tariff-rate quotas needed
to import grain and cotton into China. Some projects faltered due to high tariffs that prevented
import of machinery and fertilizer and to China’s restrictions on export of seeds (Song and Zhang,
2014). These studies focused on grain production overseas; investment may have played a stronger
role in China’s imports of palm oil and cassava from Southeast Asia. Investments in dairy, beef,
and lamb in New Zealand and Australia may also play a prominent role in China’s imports of these
commodities (Gooch, et al., 2017).
China’s outward investment in agricultural and food industries lagged behind investment in other
industries such as commercial services, real estate, manufacturing, construction, mining, energy,
and technology. Until the 1990s, China’s agricultural and food sector was largely dominated by
small-scale farms and fragmented agribusinesses, and few agribusiness companies were capable of
operating in global markets until the most recent decade. Thus, agriculture composes a small share
of China’s outward investment.
A statistical communique issued by China’s Ministry of Commerce, National Bureau of Statistics
and State Administration of Foreign Exchange (2017) reported that China’s overseas direct invest-
ment in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries during 2016 was 1.7 percent of all Chinese outward
investment flows and 1.1 percent of China’s stock of outward investment that year. However, these
numbers do not include investments in food processing, trading, and agricultural technology, since
those investments are counted in the manufacturing and service sectors.4 Moreover, averages are
not meaningful, since a few large deals worth billions of dollars skew statistics that are composed
mainly of small investments of a few million dollars. In addition, statisticians may have difficulty
measuring large investments.5
Tracking the Rise in Investment
Agricultural investments have been boosted by a combination of a maturing Chinese agribusiness
industry, growth in financial resources, and higher levels of policy support. While not a complete
inventory of agricultural investments, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data on overseas direct
4China Ministry of Commerce (2017) reported that investment in food manufacturing was $810 million during 2016,
but no totals are available for agricultural equipment, inputs, services, or logistics.
5A table in the 2013 report by the Ministry of Commerce included a footnote explaining that the acquisition of Smith-
field Foods was not included in investment totals that year.
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investment in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sector provide an indicator of the trend in
China’s outward agricultural investment flows. The statistics show that outward agricultural invest-
ments were low until growth accelerated after 2009 (fig. 1). During 2010-16, China’s annual outward
agricultural investment flow rose more than fivefold to reach nearly $3.3 billion in 2016.
These statistics do not reflect the entirety of China’s agriculture- and food-related investments. The
$14.9 billion stock of foreign investment in agricultural, forestry, and fishing sectors reported for
2016 (China Ministry of Commerce et al., 2017) was smaller than the $26 billion reported by the
Ministry of Agriculture (Farmer’s Daily, 2017a). Presumably, the difference reflects the Ministry of
Agriculture’s inclusion of investments in processing, trading, transportation, and input manufacturing
sectors related to agriculture. China’s largest outward agriculture-related investments include a handful
of very large ventures that would be classified as investments in manufacturing or logistics industries:
• During 2010-14, Bright Foods made a series of acquisitions, highlighted by its $1.9-billion
stake in Great Britain’s Weetabix and a $2.1-billion stake in Israeli dairy company Tnuva.
• In 2013, WH Group (known as Shuanghui in China) acquired U.S. Smithfield Foods for
$7.1 billion.
• In 2014, China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) purchased
controlling stakes in two trading companies, Noble Agri and Nidera; both stakes were
expanded to full ownership in 2016 with a combined investment of nearly $3 billion.
• In 2016, China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) agreed to acquire Syngenta, a Swiss
producer of seeds and agricultural chemicals, for $43 billion.
Figure 1
China direct overseas investment in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, 2003-16
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of data from China Statistical Yearbooks and China Ministry of
Commerce (2017).
Billion U.S. dollars
0.1
0.3
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.2
0.3
0.5
0.8
1.5
1.8
2.0
2.6
3.3
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2.5
3.0
3.5
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
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The growth in China’s agricultural investment reflects a general acceleration in outward foreign
investment by all types of Chinese companies. According to the NBS, agriculture accounted for a
relatively steady 1- to 2-percent share of China’s total outward foreign investment during the years
of rapid growth from 2010 to 2016.6 The steady share is an indicator that agricultural investment
was growing at a similar pace to that of other sectors. However, the “agriculture” category does not
include the large acquisitions by Bright, WH Group, COFCO, and ChemChina, which are agricul-
ture related but would be classified as investments in manufacturing and trading sectors.
Acceleration of China’s outward agricultural investment coincided with several related economic
trends, including rapid growth in agricultural imports and foreign exchange reserves. The first
prominent official endorsements of “going global” in agriculture appeared during 2007-08, as the
value of China’s agricultural imports surged during those years (fig. 2). After a brief dip during
the global financial crisis, China’s agricultural import growth accelerated from 2009 to 2013. The
growing agricultural trade deficit prompted greater concern among Chinese officials about national
food security. China’s foreign exchange reserves also grew rapidly during those years, peaking at $4
trillion in 2014. These reserves provided financial resources to support outward investment. Figure 1
shows, however, that foreign investment flows continued to accelerate after foreign exchange reserves
and agricultural imports declined during 2014-16.
Figure 2
Rapid growth in China's agricultural imports and foreign exchange reserves paralleled
outbound investment initiatives
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of data from Peoples Bank of China and Chinese customs statistics
accessed from IHS Markit (2017).
Billion dollars Trillion dollars
0
1
2
3
4
5
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
Foreign exchange reserves (right axis)
Ag imports
Ag exports
Official support
for agricultural
“going global”
increases
New Food Security,
“Belt - Road”
initiatives, 2012-13
China joins
World Trade
Organization
6Agriculture, forestry, and fishing investment represented 1.7 percent of outbound investment flows during 2016 and 1.1
percent of the total stock of overseas direct investment at the end of 2016 (China Ministry of Commerce, 2017).
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Chinese companies have made relatively few direct investments in U.S. agriculture and food sectors,
even though the United States is the top supplier of China’s agricultural imports and a leading
destination for Chinese FDI in other sectors such as real estate and manufacturing (Haneman and
Gao, 2016). China Ministry of Commerce (2017, p. 113) reported that only 2 percent of agriculture,
forestry, and fishing investment flows went to North America during 2014, the smallest share among
that of the major continents reported.
The Rhodium Group’s compilation of Chinese investments in the United States showed agriculture
and food industries accounted for only 34 of China’s 1,360 investments from 2000 to 2016 (table 2).
The value of those investments represented 6.8 percent of the value of Chinese FDI in the United
States during those years. These statistics are skewed by the $7.1 billion Smithfield deal during
2013, which accounted for 96 percent of the agriculture and food total. The next largest agricultural
project was a 2015 joint venture between China’s Yili Group and the cooperative Dairy Farmers of
America to build a milk powder processing plant in Kansas (Dairy Reporter, 2015; DFA, 2015). In
2011, two Chinese entrepreneurs spent $10 million to purchase a 22,000-acre ranch in Utah used
to grow alfalfa for export to China (Leavenworth, 2014). Another transaction that probably is not
counted “agricultural” is New Hope Groups 20-percent stake in Lansing Group, a U.S. grain trading
company, to improve its capacity to source imported feed ingredients and manage risk.
Rhodium Group data indicate that Chinese agricultural and food investments in the United States
were mostly under $10 million each. According to these data, there have been from two to three
agricultural and food investments in the United States in most years since 2007. Excluding 2013—
the year of the Smithfield investment—agricultural and food investments averaged $16.8 million per
deal and accounted for less than 1 percent of Chinese investment in the United States. California
received nine agricultural and food investments, far more than any other State.
Table 2
Chinese investments in U.S. agriculture and food, 2000-16
Year Investments Value
Ag-food share of China
investment in United States States
Number Mil$ Percent
2016 1 15 0.0 IA
2015 2 129 0.8 CA, KS
2014 3 54 0.4 CA, IN, IL
2013 3 7,116 49.8 CA, VA, FL
2012 3 19 0.3 CA, NE, VA
2011 3 17 0.3 CA, UT, TX
2010 3 31 0.7 CA (2), IA
2009 0 0 0.0
2008 3 16 2.1 CA, IL, MO
2007 2 4 1.1 CA, IL
2000-06 11 8 0.3 CA (7), TX, MO, AR, MA
Total 34 7,409 6.8
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of data from Rhodium Group (2017).
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Records of foreign ownership of U.S. farmland show a slightly larger presence of Chinese investors
in U.S. agriculture compared with the Rhodium Group data. ERS analyzed records of foreign-owned
agricultural land compiled from reports mandated by the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment
Disclosure Act, which requires foreign interests to notify the U.S. Department of Agriculture when-
ever they buy or sell U.S. agricultural land. Records for landholdings in 2014 (the latest currently
available) show that 335 farms totaling 247,429 acres were identified as having “China” owner-
ship, with a value of $680 million. According to these records, Chinese acquisitions of land in the
United States rose from less than 10 annually before 2008 to 12 to 25 each year during 2008-13.
The number of Chinese farm acquisitions fell to four during 2014. The number of farm acquisi-
tions exceeded the one-to-three annual agricultural investments reported by Rhodium Group, but
the value of the farms acquired was less—under $10 million annually in all but 2 years (2001 and
2013). Chinese farmland ownership is dominated by 50 swine farms owned by Smithfield Foods’
farming subsidiary, which exceeded 146,000 acres valued at over $500 million, all acquired when
WH Group acquired Smithfield during 2013.
Other large U.S. agricultural landholdings identified as having Chinese ownership were compa-
nies based outside of mainland China. The second-largest land owner identified as having Chinese
ownership—with 126 farms and over 30,000 acres—is Walton International Group, a multina-
tional real estate and property development company. Another multinational property management
company controlled 5,900 acres acquired during 1990 and 1991. The third-largest Chinese investor
is Formosa Plastics (27,500 acres acquired during the 1990s), a conglomerate based in Taiwan. A
chemical company headquartered in the United States had 11,263 acres acquired in 1989.
The USDA, Farm Service Agency reported that foreign persons held an interest in just 2.1 percent
of all privately held U.S. agricultural land during 2014 (Johnson, Feather, and Schultz, undated).
The Chinese holdings listed in table 3 equal just 0.9 percent of the total of 26.7 million acres of
foreign holdings of agricultural land reported by the Farm Service Agency. Thus, apart from farms
controlled by Smithfield, China’s farmland holdings in the United States appear to be small. The
database shows that Swiss company Syngenta owns 20 U.S. farms totaling 3,554 acres that could be
added to the Chinese ownership total when ChemChina completes its acquisition of that company,
but China’s holdings of U.S. farmland would remain small.
The Rationale for Investment
China’s general “going out” or “go global” strategy began in the 1990s as an initiative to strengthen
Chinese companies by encouraging them to move out from their home base and into global
markets.7 Shambaugh (2013) explained that “going out” was viewed as a transition from passively
“bringing in” new technology and investment to more active participation in global markets to create
globally competitive Chinese enterprises.
7Nearly all discussions of agricultural investment use the Chinese term “zou chu qu,” which can be translated as “go out”
or “go global.” This report uses the term “go global” since it is more meaningful to an English-speaking audience. Sham-
baugh (2013) distinguished between “zou chu qu” (go out), used for commercial firms, and “zou xiang shijie” (go global),
used for Chinese localities and organizations.
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Table 3
China holdings of U.S. farmland, 2014
Year acquired Farms Current value States
Number Acres Million dollars
2014 4 1,674 .7 FL, ME
2013 52 147,752 501.3 CO, IL, MO, NC, OK, SC, TX, UT, VA
2012 12 2,400 1.9 AZ, MD, NC, TX
2011 30 5,892 7.5 AZ, MD, VA, TX
2010 27 6,865 4.2 AZ, GA, TX
2009 25 6,995 4.9 AZ, TX
2008 30 8,127 4.4 AZ, TX, MO
2007 6 360 1.6 CA
2006 4 318 1.4 CA
2005 9 704 6.8 CA, FL, TX
2004 4 337 9.1 CA, AR
2003 2 278 .3 MO
2002 1 1 .5 PA
2001 3 1,005 25.5 FL, VA, WA
2000 2 162 7.1 CA, TX
1990-99 39 36,057 43.6
1980-89 43 22,182 51.5
1970-79 42 6,320 7.7
Total 335 247,429 680.0
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of USDA data on foreign ownership of farmland, accessed from Mid-
west Center for Investigative Reporting database.
“Going global” in agriculture is most often linked to food security concerns. During the 1990s, a
food security white paper issued by China’s State Council advocated a 95-percent self-sufficiency
rate for the main food crops. As China’s imports increased after its World Trade Organization acces-
sion, authorities grew more concerned about both “food security” and “industry security”—ensuring
that imports do not undermine the development of domestic industries.
Official endorsements gained prominence when the 2006-08 spike in global commodity prices
prompted authorities to secure more control over the rising flow of agricultural commodity imports.
In 2006, both an “Opinion” issued by three ministries encouraging agricultural “going global” and
the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MOA) Five-Year Plan for agricultural development outlined a broad
“go global” strategy (table 4). In 2007-08, prominent Chinese Communist Party policy documents
advocated outward agricultural investment for the first time.
A national food security strategy outlined in China’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) advocated
“going global” by utilizing China’s abundant labor resources to develop foreign land, water, and
energy resources. The Plan encouraged large-scale, competitive food conglomerates to produce
grains, oilseeds, and sugar crops on rented land in South and North America and Africa and then to
transport these crops back to China to balance supply and demand.
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Table 4
Chinese official initiatives advocating agricultural “going global”
Year Documents advocating agricultural “going global”
2006 Ministries of Commerce, Finance, and Agriculture jointly issued “Opinions on Accelerating
Agricultural ‘Going Global.’ ”
Ministry of Agriculture issued the “First Five-Year Plan for National Agriculture and Agricultural
Development” that included strategies for “going global.
2007 Chinese Communist Party’s “Central Document Number One” on rural policy endorsed outward
agricultural foreign investment for the first time.
2008 A document on agricultural reform issued by the third plenum of the 17th Communist Party
Congress and a medium- and long-term food security plan both endorsed agricultural “going
global.
2012 Revised food security strategy advocated an active role for Chinese companies in ensuring
China’s supply of agricultural imports.
2013 “One Belt One Road” (“New Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road”) initiative
became the focus of China’s outward investment endeavors by combining infrastructure invest-
ments, cooperation in science and technology, and trade to create new economic corridors
across Asia, Europe, and Africa.
2017 State Council guidance on outbound investment repeated emphasis on “One Belt One Road”
and identified agriculture as one of six sectors where investment is encouraged.
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from Chinese documents, Song et al. (2012) and Ma (2016).
“Going global” gained more impetus from two signature initiatives of President Xi Jinping: a revised
food security strategy issued in late 2012 and the One Belt One Road8 initiative launched in 2013.
The revised national food security strategy advocated a proactive approach of boosting domestic
production through technology and greater efficiency, while encouraging Chinese companies to gain
control over the supply chain for imports of agricultural commodities (Cheng, 2013; COFCO, 2015;
Han, 2012; Li, 2015; Wang, 2014; Ye, 2014). The new strategy narrowed the scope of commodities
targeted for self-sufficiency to rice and wheat and allowed for “moderate” imports of other commod-
ities. Supportive statements from officials, training programs, and subsidies for agricultural “going
global” increased after the new food security strategy was released (Han, Jin, and Wu, 2014).
China’s “New Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” initiative—the so-called One
Belt One Road initiative—is now a major driver of “going global” in agriculture and other industries
(Ernst and Young, 2015). Infrastructure construction and other types of investment are aimed at
creating trade routes from China to Western Europe and fostering new markets for Chinese goods.
The initiative focuses on building ports, railroads, and other transportation and logistics infrastruc-
ture and promoting trade and technical exchanges. Guidance on outbound investment issued by
China’s State Council during 2017 repeated the emphasis on One Belt One Road and identified agri-
culture as one of six priority sectors for which investment is encouraged.
Farmer’s Daily (2017b) identified countries in six “economic corridors” between China and
Western Europe that would be the focus of agricultural trade, investment, scientific cooperation,
and exchange of personnel in the One Belt One Road initiative (fig. 3). A recent article featuring
commentators associated with China’s Ministry of Commerce described the initiative as aiming to
reform the global trading system and build production capacity in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and
Europe (Shanghai Securities News, 2017). This article explained that the initiative’s strategy is to
8There are different versions of the title “One Belt One Road.” In this report, the authors use the direct translation from
Chinese characters, which also predominates in articles about the initiative on the Web.
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construct new trade routes across the Asian continent and Indian Ocean to Europe as an alternative
to established trade routes that often radiate from North America. The commentary emphasized
construction of rail routes, dissemination of Chinese technology to Southeast Asia, acquisition of
advanced technology from Europe, and bilateral trade with Russia. The One Belt One Road initia-
tive does not exclude any countries; in practice, though, the United States is not a significant target
for One Belt One Road investment. According to Farmer’s Daily (2017b), companies from all coun-
tries are welcome to invest in One Belt One Road countries.
Agricultural technology is a prominent component of Chinese agricultural investments. This
includes both China’s dissemination of its own technology as well as acquisition of advanced tech-
nology developed by multinational companies. Qiu et al. (2013) and Song and Zhang (2014) found
that Chinese agricultural investors tend to enter neighboring countries and developing countries in
Southeast Asia, Far Eastern Russia, and Africa, where technology and crop yields lag behind those
in China and where officials are receptive to Chinese investment.9 In particular, the large number of
investments in Africa reflects the foreign aid-goodwill component of many projects (see Box: “Rice
as a Diplomatic and Economic Commodity”).
More recently, acquisition of foreign technology to improve agricultural productivity has become
another objective of China’s outward investment. During the 1980s and 1990s, officials sought to
upgrade technology by attracting inbound FDI, but now the acquisition of research and development
capabilities and managerial and trading expertise appears to be the objective of several prominent
Chinese outbound investments in pork, agricultural trading, and farm input companies.
Figure 3
Trade routes defined in One Belt One Road initiative
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of information from Farmers Daily (2017b).
9Large Chinese companies surveyed by Economist Intelligence Unit (2010) reported that mergers and acquisitions were
easiest in Africa and most difficult in the United States.
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China’s outward investment strategy differs from the role of foreign investment in international trade
in food that emerged during the 1970s and 1980s. Connor (1983) and Henderson et al. (1996) docu-
mented the influence of U.S. and European food companies on agricultural and food trade. Dunning
(1981) and Helpman (2004) incorporated multinational firms into economic theory by hypothesizing
that firms set up foreign plants to utilize firm-specific assets such as research and development,
marketing, and management in multiple plants. However, most Chinese companies investing in
agriculture overseas lack brands and firm-specific assets (Daving, 2013; International Cooperation,
2009; Rosen and Hanemann, 2009; Sauvant, 2013; Zhang and Ebbers, 2010). In the earlier wave
of investment studies, agricultural economists examined the link between foreign investment and
the size and composition of agricultural exports to markets targeted for such investment (Gopinath,
Pick, and Vasavada, 1999; Marchant, Saghaian, and Vickner, 1999; Marchant, Cornell, and Woo,
2002). Chinese investors, however, have been attracted mainly to less-developed countries with
abundant land and other natural resources (Song and Zhang, 2014). China Ministry of Commerce
(2017) suggested that Chinese agribusinesses invest abroad to overcome problems they face in
China: loss of farmland, degradation of soil, pollution, and rising production costs. Many invest-
ments appear to have ambiguous objectives as both foreign aid projects and commercial ventures.
Rice as a Diplomatic and Economic Commodity
China uses its technical prowess in rice as a goodwill-building tool overseas. China’s numerous
overseas rice projects are operated by companies and have a mixture of commercial and foreign
aid objectives.
A foreign aid-type rice farm was set up in Cuba during 1996 by Xintian Group (also known as
Suntime Group)—a company affiliated with China’s Xinjiang Production Corps, which has 14
subsidiaries in tourism, petroleum, coal, and real estate as well as in agriculture (Liu, 2008).
The 5,000-ha rice-farming project producing food for the local market may have generated
goodwill for a much larger $150 million hotel investment in the country and a Cuban-themed
hotel in Shanghai (Hearn, 2016). Xintian’s investment in a Mexican rice farm followed a bilat-
eral agreement reached during a visit to Mexico by China’s premier in 1997. China does not
import rice or any other grain from either Cuba or Mexico.
Other companies founded by research institutes such as Hubei Provincial Seed Group and
Longping High Tech Co. have been prominent in both foreign aid projects and exports of rice
seed in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa. Descriptions of China’s One Belt One Road
initiative suggest that rice will have a prominent role as seed companies promise to provide
technical assistance and training to countries in Asia and Africa to raise rice yields, while also
creating new markets for Chinese seed exports. However, the success of the initiative may be
limited by regulations that limit exports of China’s most advanced rice seeds.10
10Ministry of Agriculture regulations ban exports of germplasm and seeds on a list of prohibited varieties and the
regulations require provincial and national approvals for exports of seed.
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China’s outward agricultural investment initiative is modeled on similar efforts by Japan and other
countries to gain control over agricultural imports and develop new suppliers (Ji, 2014). As Japan’s
rapid economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s raised concerns about resource scarcity in that
country, Japan stepped up its foreign aid and technical assistance related to agriculture and encour-
aged Japanese companies to diversify sources of agricultural imports (see Economy and Levi, 2014).
Pike (1970) described Japanese efforts to grow corn, sorghum, silk, rice, and bananas in Southeast
Asia and India for the Japanese market. Investments in Australia, Latin America, Mexico, and
Africa were also explored. Japan’s investment included acquisitions of U.S. farmland and agribusi-
nesses during the 1980s. Investment was driven by the appreciation of the Japanese currency, a
divergence between rising Japanese real estate prices and falling U.S. farmland values, and Japanese
companies’ vertical integration strategies (Bolling, 1992). While Pike (1972) raised concern that
Japan’s investment could erode the preeminent position of U.S. exporters in the Japanese market, the
United States remains the leading source of Japan’s agricultural imports, nearly two decades into the
21st century.
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Policy Support for “Go Global”
Nearly all of China’s outward FDI is undertaken by companies. The Government plays a supporting
role by arranging deals or providing low-interest loans, information, or advice. Officials describe
the industry-Government partnership with a slogan: “The Government sets the stage; companies
sing.” Chen et al. (2009) described several models for overseas investment in which Government
officials play varying roles in either initiating projects for companies or supporting private ventures
(Lan, 2013; Liu, 2015; Peng, 2015). Oliveira (2015) described how provincial governments brokered
investments by Chinese companies in Brazil’s soybean sector. While local and central governments
have many initiatives to encourage outward investment in agriculture, actual support is uneven.
Surveys by Qiu et al. (2013) and Song and Zhang (2014) found most investors have limited financial
resources and little knowledge of foreign markets, and many complain that Government support is
insufficient. Moreover, many Chinese companies are accustomed to reliance on Government connec-
tions and subsidies for success in the domestic market, but these benefits are not always available to
companies operating overseas (Shambaugh, 2013; Chen et al., 2009).
Earmarked, subsidized loans from Government policy banks are the chief means of support. From
2000 to 2005, several decrees and regulations authorized support for small and medium companies
investing abroad through direct aid or subsidized loans.11 China Development Bank established
cooperative funds with Southeast Asia and several European countries that can be used for overseas
investment. The Ministry of Agriculture signed agreements with two Government policy banks to
provide financial support to agricultural foreign investment projects: the China Import-Export Bank
in 2008 and the China Development Bank in 2011 (Ma, 2016).12
Not all support is explicitly subsidized. A catalog of policy support compiled by China’s Ministry
of Commerce (China Ministry of Commerce, 2015) said that China’s Bank Regulatory Commission
issues “guidance” to encourage large commercial banks to give credit to companies investing abroad
and help them raise funds for mergers and acquisitions. The Agricultural Bank of China (2015)
pledged to support “go global” investments in agriculture as well as infrastructure and energy,
and Bank of China (2016) said it provided $164 billion to finance export credit, company acquisi-
tions, and overseas business loans for 2,334 “go global” projects.13 A 2016 agreement between the
Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Development Bank of China included support for agri-
cultural companies going global as 1 of 10 items targeted for a total of $450 billion in agricultural
lending (MOA, 2016a). In 2015, China Investment Corporation—China’s sovereign wealth fund—
acquired a 20-percent stake in a joint venture with COFCO to invest in overseas ventures. Other
special funds for Southeast Asian and African investments and lending organizations like the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank may also finance outward investment.
11Documents include “中小企业国际市场开拓资金管理(试行)办法”[management of funds for medium-small enter-
prise international market development]; “关于做好2004年资源类境外投资和对外经济合作项目前期费用扶持有关问
题的通知”[circular for improved work in 2004 on problems related to support for initial expenses resource-type overseas
investment and foreign economic cooperation projects]; “对外经济技术合作专项资金管理办法”[management of special
funds for external economic and technology cooperation].
12When its agreement was signed, China Development Bank reported that it had outstanding loans of $420 million sup-
porting agricultural “go global” projects and a RMB19.5 billion ($2.88 billion) balance of all types of agricultural loans.
13The Bank of China provided a $4 billion loan to finance WH Group’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods.
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Despite these financing programs, Chinese analysts widely cite lack of financing as an obstacle to
companies investing overseas in agriculture (China Trade Promotion Commission, 2011; Zhai and
Han, 2006; Zhai, 2013). Song and Zhang (2014) reported that only a few large companies benefit
from such loans; they found that most investors financed overseas ventures by commercial bank
loans mortgaged with their assets located in China.
Chinese authorities disseminate information, provide training sessions, and have procedures and
facilities at the border to support companies “going global.” An online platform for prospec-
tive investors provides information on countries, laws, policies, and statistics. The Ministry of
Agriculture compiles lists of overseas projects and country and industry plans and has a pilot
program to give aid for machinery and equipment needed for overseas agricultural cooperation
projects (China Ministry of Commerce, 2015). In 2016, China’s Academy of Agricultural Sciences
launched a “Global Agricultural ‘Big Data’ Information Services Alliance” to act as a clearinghouse
for information on agricultural science and technology to support overseas investments and coopera-
tion by Chinese agribusinesses (MOA, 2016b).
An “agricultural industrialization” program sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture is used as
a platform to identify potential investors and provide services. This program, mainly focused on
the domestic market, designates “leading enterprises” (also known as “dragon head” or “flagship”
enterprises) that may receive aid such as earmarked loans, favorable access to land, and assistance
recruiting farmer-suppliers in exchange for providing a market for small-scale farmers and trans-
mitting technical and market information to them (China Ministry of Agriculture News Office,
2010 ).14 Farmer’s Daily (2014) described the funds, equipment, and personnel of the 118,300 agri-
cultural leading enterprises as a “strong foundation for agricultural going global.” Agricultural and
bank officials held a “going global” training session for agricultural leading enterprises during 2014
(Shandong Agricultural Information Net, 2014).
Provincial and local governments provide much of the support for agricultural “go global” projects.
Ma (2016) reported a coordinated initiative to develop provincial strategic plans for overseas invest-
ment in agriculture. Heilongjiang Province Development Research Center (2014) described provin-
cial and local government support for farming activities in Russia, one of the largest recipients of
China’s outward agricultural investment.
The 2015 and 2016 Number One Documents called for enhancing cooperation with trading partners
to facilitate customs clearance, inspection, and quarantine for agricultural products. Many projects
in recent years have upgraded border crossings, streamlined inspection procedures, and constructed
special port facilities to enhance trade with neighboring countries and One Belt One Road countries:
• Customs and inspection procedures were reportedly expedited for corn imported from
Bulgaria (Dai, 2014).
• An October 2015 document issued by China’s inspection and quarantine authority called for
setting up a series of zones with inspection, testing, and cold storage facilities designated to receive
imported meat; 56 such zones had been approved by September 2016 (AQSIQ, 2015). According
to the document, the meat entry points are an initiative to standardize and upgrade inspection of
imported meat with a specific objective of supporting the One Belt One Road strategy.
14Nearly all prominent agribusinesses in China are designated as “leading enterprises”—including public, private, and
foreign-invested enterprises.
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• Chinese authorities reported construction of special rail, storage, and inspection facilities
at a port in Jiangsu Province to act as a designated entry point for wheat imported from
Kazakhstan, described as a “major national strategy” to boost the volume of grain from One
Belt One Road countries imported into China (Lianyungang Net, 2016).
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Targeting Commodities, Regions, and Companies
This section discusses strategic factors considered for targeting investments articulated by business
and Government officials in China. As noted, there are diverse objectives and rationales for invest-
ments that can change with priorities and market conditions. Below, we summarize strategies for
targeting commodities, regions, and companies for mergers and acquisitions, based on a review of
Government documents, news media, and other sources.
Targeting Commodities To Address Import Reliance
The “going global” initiative continues Chinese officials’ longstanding objective of managing the
flow of agricultural imports to fill deficits in domestic supplies and stabilize markets (Gale, Hansen,
and Jewison, 2015, pp. 19-20). Outbound investment loosely focuses on commodities that China
needs to import to satisfy demand from its consumers.15 Zhai (2013) highlighted ocean fishing,
soybeans, corn, rice, rubber, palm oil, and cassava as main targets for Chinese investment. Han, Jin,
and Wu (2014) cited projections showing growth in corn imports to justify acceleration of “going
global” by Chinese companies.
A second objective is to develop multiple suppliers of each imported commodity to avoid excessive
reliance on a single country. The food security strategy outlined in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-
10) called for diversifying suppliers of imports to preserve China’s “food sovereignty” and mitigate
political risk. Ni (2014) profiled China’s growing reliance on imports of soybeans, edible oils, and
other products, raised concerns about the risks posed by volatility and monopolization of foreign
markets, and recommended that Chinese companies “go global” to gain more control over imports
and diversify sources of imports. China’s 2016 Number One Document called for diversification of
agricultural import suppliers, and Economy Daily (2016) emphasized that import diversification could
give China greater bargaining and price-setting power for its imports. An advisor to China’s State
Council noted that the top five supplying countries accounted for 95 to 99 percent of China’s imports of
grains, oilseeds, and oils, but the share of the top five suppliers was only 54 percent for all agricultural
commodity imports (Ye, 2017). He recommended increasing trade with One Belt One Road countries
to reduce reliance on North and South America and Oceania for agricultural imports.
To illustrate China’s foreign investment targeting, figure 4 classifies commodities along two dimen-
sions—import reliance and concentration of suppliers. The horizontal axis shows Chinas average
import reliance for 18 commodities calculated from USDAs production, supply, and distribu-
tion data for 2010-15. The vertical axis shows the degree of concentration of its suppliers for each
commodity—the share of China’s imports that comes from its top two supplying countries. Both
data items were calculated using averages for 2010-15 from Chinese customs statistics.
The upper-right quadrant of figure 4 includes commodities for which China relies on imports
for most of its consumption and also relies mainly on one or two countries for its supply. These
commodities are prime targets for Chinese overseas investment. For example, China imports all of
its palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia, the targets of some large investments by Chinese compa-
nies. Soybeans, which are also predominantly imported from two countries—Brazil and the United
States—have been targeted by several Chinese ventures in South America (Oliveira, 2015).
15The earliest examples of “going global” were in ocean fishing and tropical plantation crops like rubber, but our report
does not investigate these sectors in depth since it focuses on agricultural and food commodities.
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Figure 4
China's import reliance and diversification, by commodity, 2010-15
Note: All figures are averages for 2010-15 using market-year data. Imports as share of China’s consumption = (imports)/
(domestic consumption) x 100, using data from USDA Production, Supply, and Distribution database (PSDOnline).
Cassava import reliance was obtained from estimates by a private-sector market analysis company in China. Reliance on
top-two import sources = (imports from two leading countries)/(all imports) x 100 using Chinese customs statistics accessed
through IHS Markit (2017).
Reliance on top two import sources (percent)
0
50
100
0 50 100
Imports as share of China's consumption (percent)
Rice
Wheat
Pork
Beef
Peanut oil
Rapeseed oil
Corn
Poultry
Soy oil
Powdered milk
Rapeseed
Cotton
Sorghum
Soybeans
Palm oil
Olive oil
Sugar
Greater reliance on imports
Fewer suppliers
Cassava
A Chinese company’s recent acquisition of an Italian company with a broad production and distribu-
tion network for olive oil reflects emerging demand for this product, which China imports mainly
from Italy and Spain.
The upper-left quadrant includes commodities for which China has a lower degree of overall import-
reliance but is still reliant on two importers. These commodities could be targeted for investment in
order to diversify suppliers. Prominent examples in this quadrant include corn and rapeseed. China
imports only about 2 percent of the corn it consumes, but these imports came predominantly from
the United States until 2013. China dramatically increased its corn imports from Ukraine after
signing an agreement to accept grain shipments as repayment for loans. China also increased its
corn imports from Bulgaria through a “go global” project, although the volume was much smaller.
China imports rapeseed from Canada, but some recent initiatives sought to procure oilseeds and oils
from Russia and Ukraine.
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The lower-left quadrant includes commodities in which China appears to be more “secure” in these
two dimensions: China imports less than 50 percent of its consumption, and import sources are rela-
tively diversified. This quadrant includes wheat and rice, which China targets for self-sufficiency.
Nevertheless, China has a number of ventures involving commodities in this quadrant. As noted
above, China is largely self-sufficient in rice, but Chinese companies have invested in a number of
rice projects that appear to have a foreign aid objective. Pork is also in this quadrant. Later in the
report, we discuss the technology, management, and marketing assets gained through WH Group’s
acquisition of pork producer Smithfield Foods.
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Target Regions for Chinese Outward FDI in Agriculture
and Food
Like the objectives for outward agricultural investment, the criteria for choosing locations are also
broad and can encompass any country. Analysis of information presented by Song et al. (2012), Zhai
(2013), Ma (2016), and Ye (2016) shows that these criteria may include:
• Abundance of land, water, and other natural resources needed for agricultural production and
food processing;
• Presence of production, processing, and logistics assets targeted by Chinese companies in
“whole industry chain” strategies;
• Countries targeted for technical assistance in agriculture, especially for “South-South” coop-
eration between China and less-developed countries; and
• Countries where agricultural ventures may be tied to diplomatic overtures or initiatives like
One Belt One Road.
In practice, China’s investment has been concentrated in neighboring areas, especially Southeast
Asia and Russias Far East—regions that are geographically accessible and have abundant endow-
ments of land. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce (2017). Asian countries accounted for
half of China’s outbound investment in agriculture during 2014 (fig. 5). Europe received 15 percent,
but much of this investment was near China’s northeastern border in Russia’s Far East. Oceania—a
region with abundant dairy and other agricultural resources—received a nearly equal share. Africa,
another land-abundant region and a target for “South-South” cooperation, received about 12 percent
of China’s outbound agricultural investment. In contrast, land-abundant Latin America (6 percent)
and North America (2 percent) received relatively little Chinese agricultural investment.
The relatively small number of Chinese agricultural investments in North and South America is
surprising in view of the strong agricultural trading relationship with these regions. North America
was the largest source of China’s agricultural imports during 2010-15 at 31 percent (fig. 6), yet only
2 percent of China’s outbound agricultural investment was made there. South America accounted
for 27 percent of China’s agricultural imports but only 6 percent of its agricultural investment. In
contrast, Asia and Africa attracted the majority of China’s outbound agricultural investment, but
Asian countries supplied only 20 percent of agricultural imports and Africa just 2 percent.
Official documents generally prioritize investment in less-developed countries, where Chinese
companies face less competition for assets and local officials are often receptive to Chinese invest-
ment and diplomatic overtures. “Number One Documents” issued in 2014, 2016, and 2017 prioritized
neighboring countries and One Belt One Road countries for agricultural cooperation and investment.
The 2016-20 Five-Year Plan for the Rural Economy also prioritized One Belt One Road countries in
Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
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Figure 5
China’s outward agricultural investment, by region, 2014 (percentages)
Note: Chart shows stock of investment at the end of 2014.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service calculations using data from China Ministry of Commerce (2016, p.113).
Asia
51%
Europe
15%
Africa
12%
Oceania
14%
Latin
America
6%
North America, 2%
Figure 6
China’s agricultural imports, by region, 2010-15 (percentages)
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service calculations using China’s customs statistics accessed through IHS Markit
(2017).
Asia
20%
Europe
9%
Africa
2%
Oceania
11%
Latin America
27%
North America
31%
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The 2016-20 Five-Year Plan also advocated stronger cooperation with North America, Western
Europe, and Oceania. North America and Western Europe have been targets for a smaller number of
very large acquisitions of prominent agribusiness companies, as we discuss later. The United States,
Canada, and Western Europe already have highly developed agribusiness industries and infrastruc-
ture, so Chinese investors face keen competition for assets there. Also, local officials in these coun-
tries may be less eager to attract investment from Chinese companies.
Southeast Asia
China Ministry of Commerce (2017, p. 32) estimated the stock of agriculture, forestry, and fishing
investment in Southeast Asia at the end of 2016 to be $3.1 billion. Southeast Asia has a tropical
climate suited to rubber, oil palm, and cassava. It also has a large ethnic Chinese population—an
attribute that facilitates business ties. Southeast Asia has also been a focus of China’s diplomatic
and trade initiatives.16 Greenfield investments in which Chinese firms develop a new resource
are common in this region, since these neighboring areas require relatively low upfront financial
investments and since Chinese businessmen and traders have a relatively long history in the region
(Westad, 2012).
Southeast Asia is an important neighboring region for investments in tropical crops, such as oil
palm plantations and processing ventures in Indonesia. Starting in 2006, Tianjin Julong Group
invested US$56 million to develop two palm plantations and two palm oil processing facilities
totaling 24,000 hectares on Indonesia’s Kalimantan Island. Between 2015 and 2020, Julong intends
to enlarge the plantation size to 500,000 hectares. However, Julong has met some resistance to its
expansion from the Indonesian Government and environmental advocates (Nan, 2014). Julong’s
palm oil is exported back to China. Julong’s oil crushing mill, opened in 2011 on Kalimantan, is the
first one owned outside of China by a Chinese enterprise.
As a neighboring country with low costs and plentiful resources, Cambodia has been a target for
Chinese investment (Ji, 2014). Since the early 1990s, the Cambodian Government has leased out
large tracts of land, called economic land concessions (ELCs), to Chinese and other companies
for investment in tree plantations and large-scale agricultural operations. Nearly 1 million ha of
Cambodian farmland is currently part of an ELC, and about 85 percent of the ELC is leased by a
foreign entity. Chinese businesses are leasing 24 percent of all Cambodian ELCs.
Table 5 lists the Cambodian ELCs granted to Chinese developers between 1996 and 2014, as
compiled by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Open Development Cambodia. The invest-
ments were primarily in rubber, lumber, and other tree crops. In the NGO’s full dataset, 25 percent
of the ELCs granted to foreign companies were to Chinese developers (21 of 80 companies).
Between 2012 and 2014, the Cambodian Government returned one-third of ELCs to local farmers
and diverted some to preservation initiatives. Chinese developers lost more than one-third of their
original land size due to the Cambodian Government’s downsizing initiative. Since 2012, 143,000
ha of Cambodian ELCs have been revoked, of which 15 percent had been originally granted to
Chinese developers.
16A prominent trade initiative is the “early harvest” reduction of agricultural tariffs in China’s free trade agreement with
ASEAN.
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Table 5
Cambodian economic land concessions for Chinese developers (1996-2014)
Chinese developer
Excised
amount
(ha)
Updated
contract
size Investment intension
Downsized between 2012-14
The Green Rich Co. Ltd. 42,200 18,000 Palm oil, fruit trees, and acacia
Great Asset Agricultural Development (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 2,057 6,928 Cashew and other crops
Heng Rui (Cambodia) International Company Ltd. 1,680 7,439 Rubber, acacia, and sugarcane
Gold Foison (Cambodia) A/C Import Export & Construction
Co. Ltd.
1,301 5,699 Acacia and processing plant
Holy Ykho-Industrial (Cambodia) 1,051 6,446 Rubber and other crops
Lan Feng (Cambodia) International Company Ltd. (Close
up Industrial)
662 8,353 Rubber, acacia, and sugarcane
Huayue Group Co. Ltd. (previously Siv Guek Investment Co.
Ltd.)
589 9,411 Acacia, trincomali, and other crops
Heng Nong (Cambodia) International Company Ltd. 543 5,945 Rubber, acacia, and sugarcane
Rui Feng (Cambodia) International Company Ltd. 185 8,656 Rubber, acacia, and sugarcane
GG World Group (Cambodia) Development Co. Ltd. 179 4,821 Unspecified crops, animal
husbandry, and processing plant
Un-Inter Trading and Development Group (Cambodia) 14 6,986 Rubber, acacia, and other crops
Subtotal 50,462 88,683
No evidence of adjustment
Union Development Group 36,000 Unknown
Cambo Victor Investment and Developing Co. Ltd. 26,550 Peanut, rice, corn, soybean, other crops,
and animal husbandry
Asia World Agricultural Development (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 10,000 Teak, other crops, and processing plant
Phou Mady Investment Group 10,000 Acacia, teak, and other crops
Wuzhishan L.S. Group Co. Ltd. 10,000 Pine, fruits, vegetables, and processing
Grand Land Agricultural Development (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 9,854 Unspecified crops
Union Development Group 9,100 Unknown
Yellow Field (Cambodia) International Ltd. 8,591 Unknown
Huor Ling (Cambodia) International Insurance 8,400 Pine
Great Wonder Agricultural Development (Cambodia) Ltd. 8,231 Cashew and other crops
Unigreen Resources Co. Ltd. 8,000 Rubber
(Cambodia) Tong Min Group Engineering 7,465 Rubber, acacia, jatropha, and processing
plant
Crops & Land Development (Cambodia) 7,200 Rubber and acacia
Agri-Industrial Crops Development 7,000 Rubber and acacia
Land & Developing (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 7,000 Rubber and acacia
Seang Long Green Land Investment (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 7,000 Rubber and acacia
Subtotal 180,391
Revoked ELC between 2011 and 2015
Agro Forestry Research 7,000 0 Rubber and acacia
Fu Sheng Hai (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. 7,079 0
Other crops, eco-tourism, and special
economic zone
Jian King (Cambodia) International Investment Co. Ltd. 8,568 0 Pine and processing plant
Subtotal 22,647
ha = hectares.
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from Open Development Cambodia (2015).
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Five Chinese companies (Rui Feng, Lan Feng, Heng Rui, Heng Nong, and Heng Yon) pooled ELC
licenses totaling 40,000 ha to create a sugarcane supply base for a sugar mill that opened in 2016.
The mill was built adjacent to their ELCs in Preah Vihear Province, and is expected to be one of
Asia’s largest, with products reportedly destined for export to Europe, China, and India (Sokhorng,
2017). The sugar mill investment is part of a larger project that features a power plant, a fertilizer
plant, and other infrastructure including a hospital and school, altogether totaling US$1.5 billion.
In Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries, foreign aid has been a significant part of China’s
agricultural investments. In Cambodia, a Chinese tropical crops research institute partnered with a
local company to initiate cassava and rubber tree seed propagation and to research mechanization
of cassava cultivation. A report on China-Laos cooperation by the Shanghai International Issues
Research Institute (2016) noted that China is the largest donor of foreign aid to Laos. According
to the report, China’s investment in Laos during 2001-09 totaled $1.2 billion, including rice, corn,
sugarcane, rubber, tobacco, and tropical fruit, mainly in northern Laos.
A company based in China’s Hunan Province reportedly introduced Laotian rice to the Chinese
market during 2016, an activity described as a key One Road One Belt cooperative venture (Xinhua
News Service, 2016). An earlier project intended to grow rice and other commodities in Laos illus-
trates the mixture of foreign aid, commercial intentions, and other objectives in some projects. It
also illustrates the pitfalls that can be encountered in overseas ventures. Experts in China interpreted
the Laos venture’s failure as a demonstration of the need for stronger support and planning from
the central Government for outward investment projects (see box, “Chongqing Investment in Laos
Illustrates Pitfalls of Investment”).
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Chongqing Investment in Laos Illustrates Pitfalls of Investment
The Chongqing Municipal Government established an agricultural park in Laos with 6
companies during 2004-08 as one of 11 projects in a bilateral agreement reached with
Laos by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agricultural park was planned for 5,000
hectare (ha) producing rice, flowers, aquaculture, and other items. Officials planned to employ
workers displaced by the Three Gorges dam project, which flooded many cities and villages
in Chongqing.17 Reportedly, 200 companies expressed interest in the park, but only 4 actually
invested. A seed company was the only one of the four with experience in agriculture; the others
were an industrial conglomerate and two real estate companies from Chongqing. Initially, each
of the companies leased 15 ha of land from the local government in Laos at a rent of about
$1-to-$2/ha per season. Seeds brought from Chongqing proved to be unsuited to local climate
and soils, and it took several years to find a hybrid variety with good yields. The companies
then discovered that transportation costs would consume all profits for rice marketed in China
as they had planned. The seed company questioned whether it could earn enough profit to justify
even more investment in irrigation, roads, and canals needed to make the planned park viable.
According to the news media, the original four companies had reportedly given up on the Laos
project by 2013, and the Chongqing Government reportedly requested assistance from national
authorities to rescue the park. A task force sent to Laos decided to try planting tung oil trees to
make biodiesel fuel, and a number of other companies came to investigate business opportuni-
ties. But the park never grew beyond 50 ha, 1 percent of its planned size.
Russia
Far Eastern Russia, just across the border from Heilongjiang Province, is a leading location for
Chinese outward FDI. China Ministry of Commerce (2017, p. 37) estimated the cumulative invest-
ment in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in Russia at over $3 billion at the end of 2016. Nearly
half of the agricultural “going global” Chinese companies interviewed by Qiu et al. (2013) had
investments in Russia. According to Heilongjiang Development Research Center (2014), individual
Heilongjiang farmers began growing grain and vegetables and raising livestock in Russia in the early
1990s. In 2005, Heilongjiang officials developed a strategic plan to organize and support farming
activities in Russia that included both company-driven and China-Russian Government-driven
models. By 2011, 40 percent of counties in Heilongjiang and the province’s State Farm system had
agreements with local governments in Russia, encompassing 6.9 million mu (460,000 hectares) of
Russian land.
In 2007, the Heilongjiang provincial agriculture commission started a fund to finance equipment
purchases and other support for foreign agricultural development. Many projects involve
Heilongjiang companies or farmer associations cultivating rented land in Russia, frequently
arranged by county government agreements with counterparts in Russia. Investors use China’s
agricultural machinery purchase subsidy to buy machinery for foreign projects. The Sino-Russian
Modern Agriculture Cooperation District opened in 2007 was described as the first national-level
17Chongqing Commercial News, “种得出粮赚不到钱 渝企老挝种粮铩羽而归 [Grain did not earn money; Chongqing
companies planting grain in Laos playing with toys],” 4 April 2009. Business Reference News, “专家呼吁:海外种地
家战略亟待建立 [Expert: urgent to establish overseas farming national strategy],” 22 September 2009.
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foreign agricultural industry zone, encompassing 68,000 hectares of Russian cropland, agricultural
production, processing, logistics, and organic food (Heilongjiang Mobile Phone Party News, 2016).
Song and Zhang (2014) described Russia as having great potential for agricultural investment due
to low land rent and low prices for energy. However, they also reported that few of the crops grown
by Chinese investors in Russia were exported to China. The survey by Qiu et al. (2013) reported
problems such as restrictions on work visas and the failure of Russian officials to pursue agreements
that would allow rapeseed grown in Russia to be exported to China. Song and Zhang reported
complaints about high tariffs on imported inputs, high taxes and fees assessed on products shipped
into China, uneven enforcement of laws, canceled land rental contracts, weather risk, and poor
infrastructure.
Chinese authorities have taken steps to reduce barriers to exporting products from Russia to China:
• Heilongjiang provincial authorities lobbied the National Development and Reform Commission
to gain an exemption from import tariffs during October to December for soybeans grown by
Chinese farmers in Russia (Heilongjiang Development Research Center, 2014).
• Inspection and testing facilities at Russian border crossings were upgraded to handle agricul-
tural products grown in Russia, and procedures were established to inspect farms and products
in Russia to expedite their entry into China (China Economy Net, 2015; AQSIQ, 2013).
• Chinese authorities reported upgrading and streamlining customs and inspections procedures
at Russian border crossings to facilitate trade in agricultural commodities.
• Agreements to export rapeseed from Russia to China were signed. A large Chinese conglom-
erate was matched up with a local grain and oil enterprise in Inner Mongolia to import rape-
seed and other commodities produced in Russia, process them at the Chinese border crossing,
and then distribute the products within China (Central Peoples Government Net, 2016).
Customs statistics confirm, however, that few commodities produced in Russia were exported to
China until recently. Imports of soybeans, vegetable oils, and major commodities were negligible
until the last few years. China’s soybean imports from Russia increased from 64,000 mt during
2011/12 to 431,000 mt during 2015/16 (fig. 7). Vegetable oil imports from Russia—mainly soybean
and rapeseed oil—surged from under 8,000 mt during 2013/14 to over 220,000 mt in 2015/16.
Cereal grain imports—mainly corn—also became significant during 2014/15 and 2015/16 but
never reached 100,000 mt. Despite rapid growth, Russia was China’s smallest supplier of imported
soybeans, and the 431,000 mt imported from Russia that year was a small fraction of the total
volume of China’s soybean imports, which exceeded 83 million mt during 2015/16.
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Figure 7
China imports of key commodities from Russia
Note: Data are for October-September market years.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of China customs statistics accessed through IHS Markit (2017).
Thousand metric tons
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
700
800
2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16
Cereal grains
Vegetable oils
Soybeans
Latin America and the Caribbean
South America is a land-abundant region that supplies more than half of China’s soybean imports.
It is an important supplier of sugar, other grains, oilseeds, and livestock products; the Caribbean
region also produces sugar.
Chinese diplomatic overtures to these regions and infrastructure development have been linked to
agriculture. In 2015, Premier Li Keqiang toured Latin America to emphasize increased trade rela-
tions between China and the region. Brazil was the first stop of his visit. Li and Brazilian President
Dousseff signed trade agreements that involve bilateral investments to strengthen infrastructure,
energy, and agriculture, among other sectors (Xinhua, 2015a). Premier Li specifically spoke of
China’s purchase of high-quality Brazilian agricultural products, while Brazil will import infrastruc-
ture-related machinery from China. Although Chinese publications refer to many parts of the world
as potential “breadbaskets,” South America is already a substantial supplier of soybeans, grain,
and sugar to China. Therefore, Chinese investment in South American agriculture can take a wide
variety of forms—entrance of Chinese firms into each stage of the supply chain, improvements to
transportation infrastructure, and better diplomatic relations through foreign assistance and relaxed
trade restrictions—each with the goal of increasing Chinese access to South American commodities.
Chinese firms have encountered some difficulties with their greenfield investments in South
American agriculture. For example, large investments by China’s Chongqing Grain Group in Brazil
and Beidahuang in Argentina were stalled or rejected due to opposition from environmental groups
and infringement on local land ownership laws. Song and Zhang (2014) noted that local land owner-
ship laws had been revised over concerns about Chinese investment, but Economy and Levy (2014)
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reported that some local leaders in Brazil ascertained that prospective Chinese investors were not
serious about doing business. An on-the-ground investigation by the Inter-American Dialogue found
that only 10 of 17 major Chinese land acquisitions in Latin America were confirmed and under culti-
vation (table 6).
The failure of many direct land purchases for greenfield investments and the limited availability
of financial resources have prompted a shift in strategy toward obtaining assets by acquiring
established companies that control assets in Latin America (described in next section). Through
purchases of Noble Agri and the Netherlands-based trading company Nidera, China’s COFCO
gained control of a number of grain terminals, port docks, and processing facilities in Argentina,
Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil (table 7).
Chinese investment in Latin American infrastructure and China’s relaxation of restrictions on Latin
American imports could contribute to stronger trade ties between the regions. Chinese firms have
proposed large infrastructure projects such as a waterway and railroad linking the Caribbean to the
Pacific, an Amazon-Andes railway, and a “super port” in Rio de Janeiro that could facilitate trans-
port of commodities, but these projects have not gotten underway.
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Table 6
Confirmed and unconfirmed land purchases in Latin America and Caribbean by Chinese
investors (1996-2013)
Country Project Land (ha) Investor
Jamaica
(2011) Sugarcane farming and processing 27,800
COMPLANT International Sugar Industry Co.,
Ltd.
Brazil
(2007) Soybean farming
700 in Rio Grande
do Sul & 16,100 in
Tocatins
Zhejiang Fudi Agricultural Group & Agricultural
Bureau of Heilongjiang Province
Bolivia
(2010) Soybean Industrial zone 12,488 Shanghai Pengxin International Group Ltd.
Cuba
(1996)
Rice farming 5,000 in Pinar del
Rio & 3,259 in
Granma
Suntime Group
Venezue-
la (2001)
Farming 2,000
Mexico
(1998)
Rice and other cash-crop
cultivation
1,005 Suntime Group
Venezue-
la (2001)
Farming 535 Tongwei Group Co. Ltd.
Venezue-
la (2004)
Sisal Demonstration Project 450 in Lara & 200
in Falcon
Guangxi Sisal Group Company Ltd.
Chile
(2010)
Winery 350 COFCO Wine & Spirits
Chile
(2013)
Fruit farms 370 Joyvia
Total = 70,257 ha
Unconfirmed or stalled/rejected investments
Argentina
(2011)
Soybeans, corn, and wheat farming 300,000 (rejected) Heilongjiang Beidahuang Nongken Group, Co.
Brazil
(2010)
Grain production and a bioenergy
sector
200,000-250,000 Pallas International Consultants Group
Brazil
(2005)
Cotton and soybean farming 200,000 Shanghai Pengxin International Group Ltd.
Brazil
(2008)
Soybean farming and industrial
complex
200,000 (stalled) Chongqing Grain Group
Argentina
(2012)
Soybean 130,000 Chongqing Grain Group
Venezue-
la (2013)
Corn, rice, and soybean production 60,000 Heilongjiang Beidahuang Nongken Group, Co.
Argentina
(2012)
Soybean and dairy farming 10,000 Chongqing Grain Group
Bahamas
(2010)
Vegetable, fruit, and livestock pro-
duction and processing plant
5,000
Total = 1,155,000
ha
ha = hectares.
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from Meyers (2013) and Meyers and Jie (2015).
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Table 7
Noble Agri’s South American assets as of 2015
Country Description of assets
Argentina Salta Interior Elevator has grain storage capacity of 4,500 mt with the capability of expansion to 50,000
mt.
Argentina Timbues River Port Grain Terminal is the largest facility in Noble’s South American network. The
US$65-million terminal occupies 231 hectares, with 2,100 m of waterfront.
Argentina Delta Dock SA is on the Parana River and covers 288 ha with a frontage of 1,400 m close to one of
Argentina’s major new agricultural zones, rich in the production of multiple types of grains.
Argentina Timbues Oilseed Processing Complex is capable of processing 2.7 million mt of soybeans every year.
The plant produces soybean oil, meal, and pellets, which adds value to grain exports that would other-
wise be processed abroad.
Uruguay Terminal Granaleras Uruguayas (TGU) has a storage capacity of 60,000 mt per day and a barge-un-
loading capacity of 10,000 mt per day, and, with an operable depth of 10 meters, is capable of accom-
modating Panamax vessels.
Paraguay Pacu Cua Barge Terminal is a 55,000 mt barge-loading facility on the Parana waterway, with a 10,000
mt per day load capacity for soybeans and corn.
Paraguay A total of five storage facilities across Paraguay providing a total of 120,000 mt of storage.
Brazil Parana, Maringa, and Jussara warehouses with a total capacity of 65,600 mt.
Brazil NBC fertilizer storage facility is located in Parangua, Parana State, at one of the most important ports
in Brazil. The facility has the capacity to store 3,000 mt of fertilizer and is equipped with a 100 mt scale
for loading and discharging goods and vehicles.
Brazil Noble Agri has a 100-percent shareholding of Terminal 12A, a dry bulk export terminal, in Santos, São
Paulo, South America’s largest port. First operational in 2010, the terminal covers an area of 10,000 ha
and has an export capacity of 30,000 mt per day.
Brazil Casa Nobre Coffee Facility is a fully automated, computerized facility for preparing coffee beans. In
addition, a processing and storage facility is under construction on a 157,000 ha site in Alfenas, south
of the state of Minas Gerais.
Brazil Catanduva Sugar Mill, with sugarcane crushing capacity of 4.6 mt per annum, has a modern sugar
refinery that allows for the production of crystal sugar and refined white sugar.
Brazil Potirendaba Sugar Mill has a crushing capacity of 3.4 mt per annum.
Brazil Votuporanga Sugar Mill has an annual crushing capacity of 5 million mt. The plant burns sugarcane
bagasse that generates 55 megawatts of electricity that is sold to the grid.
Brazil Meridiano Sugar Mill has a crushing capacity of 4 million mt a year. Meridiano will also sell 55 mega-
watts of electricity to the grid.
Brazil Rondonopolis Oilseed Crushing Facility has crushing capacity of 4,000 mt per day and storage capac-
ity of 246,000 mt, with another daily 600 mt of production at its biodiesel facility.
Brazil NBC Blending Facility in Rondonia has the capacity to store 2,000 mt of blended fertilizer and 4,000 mt
of raw materials.
Brazil Mato Grosso warehouses are capable of storing corn and soybeans. They include Nova Maringa, with
a capacity of 45,000 mt; Sorriso, with a capacity of 60,000 mt; and KBKK and Campo Verde with a
capacity of 100,000 mt.
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from Noble Agri 2015.
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Australia and New Zealand
The abundant agricultural resources of New Zealand and Australia place these countries among
the more attractive locations for FDI in the agricultural and food processing sectors. The impor-
tance of dairy, beef, and sheep—all commodities with growing demand in China—and trade
agreements further enhance the attractiveness of this region. China has sought out both low- and
high-value commodities in the form of barley, sorghum, wheat, milk powder, cheese, live cattle,
beef, and infant formula.
Chinese investors are entering the Australia/New Zealand supply chain at each stage for various
commodities, from sugar and wheat cultivation in Western Australia to milk and meat production
in New Zealand, through acquisition of name brands in foodstuff such as New Zealand’s Silver
Fern Farms and Synlait Milk (Gray, 2015). Additionally, Chinese companies have built new dairy
processing facilities in New Zealand. However, proposals by COFCO and Beidahuang to build new
grain terminals in Australia have been scaled back (Thompson, 2015; 2014).
Table 8 lists the major investments by Chinese companies in New Zealand’s dairy sector between
2010 and 2015. The greenfield and brownfield investments and firm acquisitions include all stages
of the dairy supply chain from farm to export. New Zealand and Australian dairy exports to China
grew substantially after China’s 2008 scandal in which melamine was added to milk to artifi-
cially boost the protein content during testing. The melamine contamination caused six deaths and
hundreds of sick infants across China. Following this tragic event, consumer trust in the domesti-
cally produced output of the Chinese dairy industry plummeted (IRGC, 2010; Baldwin, 2010).
Table 8
Major Chinese Investments in the New Zealand dairy sector (2010-15)
Company Investment
Investment
type Investment Commodity
Shanghai Pengxin Crafar Farms (7,892
hectares)
Land and
facilities
$70 million 16,000 cattle
Shanghai Pengxin Lochinver Farms (13,800
hectares)
Land and
facilities
$70 million 5,800 cattle/60,000
sheep
Shanghai Pengxin Synlait Farms Land and
facilities
$20 million 13,000 cattle
Bright Dairy 51% share of Synlait
Milk
Firm acquisi-
tion
$58 million UHT milk
Yili Industrial Group 100% of Oceania Dairy
Group
Firm
acquisition
$3 million Milk powder
Pengxin/Mengniu/ NZ
Miraka
Miraka Processing Plant Joint venture $27 million Milk powder and infant
formula
Bright Dairy/ Synlait
Milk
Synlait Processing Plant Joint venture
Yili Industrial Group South Canterbury Infant
Formula Plant
Greenfield
investment
$214 million 56,000 mt of milk powder
annual production
capacity
Yashili Pokeno Infant Formula
Plant & Greenfield In-
vestment
Greenfield
investment
$210 million 52,000 mt of finished and
semifinished milk annual
production capacity
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from news media reports.
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Both Australia and New Zealand have concluded recent free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China
that include tariff reductions for a number of agricultural commodities. China’s imports from New
Zealand have risen after the 2009 FTA eliminated most tariffs on such imports (Wilson, 2014;
Sandrey and Jensen, 2008). The Australia-China FTA (ChAFTA) will reduce tariffs on Australian
dairy, beef, sheep meat, live animals, wine, seafood, and horticultural products between 2014 and
2025. Tariffs on dairy products will be eliminated. Trade reform with the ChAFTA also raises
the maximum limit on the size of Chinese investments in Australia, as well as the threshold for an
investment screening process.
Africa
China’s agricultural investment in Africa reflects a mix of commercial ventures, foreign technical
assistance, and projects tied to nonagricultural ventures. The African continent has been a focus of
China’s technical assistance, including agricultural technology demonstration centers (Brautigam
and Tang, 2009; Zhou, 2012). Shambaugh (2013) reported that Africa received about one-fourth of
China’s foreign aid. Some agricultural projects in Africa are linked to construction of roads, ocean
ports, airports, rail, and schools, which are not directly related to agriculture but may foster agri-
cultural trade in the long term by upgrading physical infrastructure, technology, and human capital
(Lin, 2015). Chinese aid and investment may be designed to build goodwill in African countries to
create business opportunities for Chinese importers and contractors (Sun, 2015).
Much of the attention on Chinese “land grabs” in international news media has focused on Africa,
but investigations by Brautigam and Tang (2009) and Brautigam and Zhang (2013) found that only
around 4 percent of reported land acquisitions by Chinese could be confirmed. Similarly, a list of
Chinese agriculture ventures in Africa shows that reported projects totaling over 6 million ha had a
confirmed area of less than 240,000 ha actually developed (table 9). More than half of the African
lands contracted by Chinese companies had exaggerated claims about the size, while the actual size
of the project conformed to the planned size for only five ventures. Media reports overstated two
investments—one by ZTE/Zongery and the other by Wuhan Kaidi, both firms largely known as
energy companies—by more than 2 million ha each. About 80 percent of the area developed is part
of four large investments in rubber and biofuel nongrain feedstocks: GMG in Cameroon (104,000
ha), COMPLANT in Madagascar (30,000 ha), Hubei Lianfeng in Mozambique (30,000 ha), and
CGC Overseas Construction Group in Mali (26,000 ha). The remaining 17 investments are not as
large, averaging only 3,600 ha.
A tobacco venture in Zimbabwe is China’s most prominent commercial venture in Africa. Tian Ze,
a subsidiary of state-owned China Tobacco Company, grew from one contract farmer with 20 ha
in 2005 to 387 contract farmers by 2014 (Mutenga, 2014). The venture reportedly has expanded
since to Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia. Chinese-supported contract farming arrangements such as
Tian Ze have exempted Chinese companies from Zimbabwe’s 2010 Indigenisation and Economic
Empowerment Act, which requires foreign investors to have at least 51 percent of shares of business
owned by indigenous Zimbabweans (Mukwereza, 2014).
The link between Chinese investment and the Chinese food supply is weaker than many observers
assume. As noted, imports from Africa account for only 2.5 percent of China’s agricultural imports.
China’s leading agricultural imports from Africa are tobacco and cotton and wool, along with
sesame seeds and fruit and nuts, which are the leading food imports. China does not import any rice
or other grains from African countries.
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Table 9
Chinese agricultural investment in Africa involving land purchases
Country Companies
Span of
years
Land area
reported
(hectares)
Actual area
(hectares) Crops
Difference between reported and actual land purchase of more than 2 million hectares (ha)
DR Congo ZTE Agribusiness/Zongery 2007-10 3,000,540 740 Oil palm, mixed crops
Zambia Wuhan Kaidi, CSFAC/CAAIC, Jiangsu
SFAC, China Yong Group
1993-2009 2,009,379 8,852 Biofuel, mixed crops
Difference between reported and actual land purchase of more than 100,000 ha
Zimbabwe China Intl. Water, Elec. Corp., Anhui SFAC,
Anhui Tianrui Env. Tech., Hubei Liangfeng
( JV)
2003-14 155,685 13,913 Maize, wheat, soy,
tobacco
Sierra
Leone
Hainan Rubber, COMPLANT 2003-12 143,100 1,845 Rubber, rice, sugarcane
Madagas-
car
Sucoma (COMPLANT), Hunan WinMa
Resources, Hunan Yuan Int’l
1997-2013 142,470 30,470 Castor, sugarcane, sugar,
rice, cassava
Mali CGCOC/CNHRRDC, CLETC/Mali govt.,
COVEC, Shimen State Farm
1995-2009 126,674 26,174 Rice, sugarcane, tea
Difference between reported and actual land purchase of more than 50,000 ha
Angola CITIC Construction, CEIEC, CAMC Engi-
neering
2011-14 92,013 - Grains, rice, cattle, fish
Senegal Datong 2008 60,000 - Sesame, rubber, rice
Uganda Qiu Lijun [Hebei Hanhe Ag. Inv. Co.], Liu
Jianjun [Baoding]
2009-10 45,000 160 Mushrooms, mixed crops
Nigeria CGC/LPHT, ZJS International, Wems Agro 2006-14 32,025 2,025 Rice seed
Ethiopia Hunan Dafengyuan 2010 25,000 - Sugarcane
Difference between reported and actual land purchase of more than 5,000 ha
Sudan ZTE Energy, Shandong IETC/H. Shuofeng 2009-12 16,667 1,727 Mixed crops, cotton
Cameroon GMG/Sinochem, Shaanxi SFAC/Sino-Cam
IKO 2006-10 114,555 104,655 Rubber, grains, rice
Mozam-
bique
Hubei Lianfeng, Wanbao, Luambala Jatro-
pha, Hao Shengli, Rizhao Sunway, Hubei
Hefeng Grain & Oil
2006-14 39,313 30,524 Rice, stevia, mixed crops,
oilseeds, cotton
Benin COMPLANT 2003-10 10,800 5,200 Sugar
Difference between reported and actual land purchase of more than 500 ha
Mauritania CSFAC 1999 638 - Rice
Actual land purchase is equivalent to that reported
Côte d'
Ivoire
GMG Global/Sinochem 2008 1,580 1,580 Rubber
Ghana Jiangxi Yu Sheng Food 2013 500 500 Soybeans
Guinea CSFAC 1996 2,400 2,400 Mixed crops
Tanzania CSFAC/CAAIC 2000 6,900 6,900 Sisal
Togo COMPLANT 1987 1,700 1,700 Sugar
Totals: 6,026,939 239,365
Source: Compiled by USDA, Economic Research Service from School for Advanced International Studies (2016).
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A Strategic Shift to Mergers and Acquisitions
Most of China’s outward investment in agriculture initially focused on “greenfield” investments that
build an overseas operation from the ground up, often in developing countries and the Russian Far East
where technology and yields are low (Qiu et al., 2013). More recently, a smaller number of companies
have made much larger investments by acquiring or forming joint ventures with companies in more
developed markets to acquire sales networks, logistics, processing facilities, and brand name recogni-
tion (OECD, 2008; Shambaugh, 2013). Zhai (2013) observed that Chinese agricultural investors have
pursued mergers and cooperative ventures with other companies after encountering numerous obstacles
and risks in investment projects. Investments now commonly focus on managerial expertise and tech-
nology as well as physical assets. In many instances, Chinese firms aware of their own management
shortfalls have taken a passive approach to managing firms they acquire by leaving existing managers
in place or hiring experienced managers (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010).
China Ministry of Commerce (2017, p. 259) reported 35 mergers and acquisitions in agriculture,
forestry, and fishing during 2015—less than 1 percent of all such investments by Chinese compa-
nies. The companies profiled here—COFCO, Bright Foods, WH Group, and New Hope Group—
made large acquisitions, but nearly all were in food processing, distribution, and logistics rather than
farming assets (table 10). They include state-owned companies (COFCO and Bright) and private
companies (WH Group and New Hope Group). All are conglomerates of numerous—sometimes
unrelated—companies, a business model that waned among U.S. and European firms in recent
decades but is still common in Asia (Khanna and Palepu, 1999; Ramachandran, Manikandan, and
Pant, 2013). Most of these acquisitions are recent—from 2010 to 2017.
COFCO
China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation—widely known as COFCO—was estab-
lished in 1949 to import and export grains and edible oils. COFCO is the most prominent state-owned
company in the agriculture and food sector, with trading and processing capacity in flour, rice, edible
oils, feed, pork, sugar, dairy, wine, wool, and tomato products. COFCO has established leading brand-
name retail products in each of these sectors.18 As a state-owned company, COFCO has dual commer-
cial and national objectives, including the preservation of China’s national food security.
COFCO’s history of “going global” efforts reflects changing strategies over time. Its first major
overseas venture was a small subsidiary set up in the former West Germany during 1987 to export
canned and frozen vegetables to Europe. A 2005 venture established a company in Gabon, West
Africa, to procure, process, and export tropical wood. During 2010-11, COFCO acquired vineyards
and wineries in Chile and France to supply the growing demand for wine in China. In 2012, COFCO
acquired a controlling stake in the Australian sugar company Tully, which eventually was raised to
full ownership.
18Like many conglomerates in China, COFCO also has holdings in real estate and hotels.
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Table 10
Acquisitions and joint ventures by four Chinese agribusiness companies
Chinese company Year
Company
acquired
Country of
company
acquired Type of business Investment Ownership
COFCO 2012 Tully Australia Sugar
2014-16 Nidera Netherlands Grain, oils, sugar
trading and pro-
cessing
$1.4bil 100%
2014-16 Noble Agri Hong Kong $1.4bil 100%
2017 Growmark* United States Grain logistics NA partnership
Bright Foods 2010 Synlait New Zealand Dairy $58mil 51%
2011 Manassen Foods Australia Yogurt $516mil
2012 Diva Bordeaux France Wine Unknown 70%
2012 Weetabix Great Britain Breakfast cereals $1.9bil 60%
2012 Salov Italy Olive oil Unknown 51%
2014 Tnuva Israel Dairy $2.1bil 77.70%
2016 Silver Fern Farms New Zealand Lamb/beef $197mil 50%
New Hope Group 2013 Kilcoy Australia Beef $100mil majority
2014 Synlait** New Zealand Dairy NA
2015 Moxey Farms*** Australia Dairy $100mil
2015 Lansing Trade Group United States Grain trading $127mil 20%
WH Group 2013 Smithfield Foods United States Pork $7.1bil 100%
2017 Clougherty Packing
LLC
United States Pork production and
processing
$145mil 100%
2017 Pini Polska, Ham-
burger Pini, Royal
Chicken
Poland Meat and poultry
processing
NA 100%
* COFCO and Growmark will jointly operate a grain terminal and source corn and soybeans for export.
**Synlait acquired 25 percent of New Hope dairy subsidiary in China and formed a long-term supplier relationship.
*** New Hope and Australian companies Freedom Foods and Leppington Pastoral jointly acquired the dairy farming operation.
NA=not available.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service compilation of news media reports.
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COFCO’s most recent—and largest—acquisitions of commodity trading companies marked a stra-
tegic shift away from land acquisitions to trading, logistics, and processing assets—a so-called
“whole supply chain” approach (Economic Observer, 2012; Ma et al., 2014). In 2014, COFCO
acquired majority stakes in Dutch grain trading company Nidera NV and Noble Ltd’s agricul-
tural trading operation, and both were raised to full ownership during 2016. The acquisition of
commodity trading companies and COFCO’s control of Nidera and Noble Agri gave the Chinese
state-owned company agricultural assets in 26 countries in international production, domestic logis-
tics and transportation, processing centers, and sales networks in some of the world’s most produc-
tive regions, including Latin America and the Black Sea region of Eastern Europe (Li, 2015; Yap et
al., 2015) .
The Noble and Nidera acquisitions came after COFCO’s chairman and a vice premier promised that
the company would ensure China’s food security by controlling a greater share of global agricul-
tural resources (COFCO, 2013). The acquisitions appear to reflect national policy goals of creating a
“large, internationally competitive agricultural conglomerate” included in Number One Documents
issued by China’s State Council during 2014 and 2016.
During 2017, COFCO made a less prominent move into the United States when it announced a part-
nership with Growmark, a U.S. farmer cooperative. According to public announcements, Growmark
will help COFCO operate a grain terminal in Illinois it gained as part of its Nidera acquisition.
Growmark also will help COFCO source corn and soybeans for export.
As noted earlier, Chinese analysts report that most overseas investors are constrained by lack of
financing, but COFCO has received large infusions of credit from Chinese policy banks. These
include a 30-billion yuan ($4.7 billion) line of credit from the Agricultural Development Bank of
China for investment in grain-related projects in 2011 (ADBC, 2011); 30 billion yuan in financing
over 5 years from the China Development Bank (China Daily, 2013); and another commitment in
2016 from the Agricultural Development Bank to finance projects related to food security, food
safety, and agricultural modernization (Securities Daily, 2016).
Bright Foods
Bright Foods Group—known as Guangming in China—is a conglomerate owned by Shanghai’s
municipal government. Bright is the most prominent of a group of companies created from provincial
branches of the nationwide system of state farms that were set up during China’s central planning era to
cultivate reclaimed land in border and coastal regions and to supply cities with meat and vegetables.19
These groups have been designated by agricultural officials as models for overseas investment, prob-
ably because they are among the few companies with experience in farming on a large scale. Besides
Bright, Beidahuang, Jiusan, the Guangxi and Guangdong Province State Farms, and companies affili-
ated with the Xinjiang Production Corps have been prominent overseas investors.
Bright Foods’ strategy of acquiring stakes in consumer-oriented food companies, dairy, and meat
suppliers based mainly in Oceania and Europe contrasts with the more numerous land-focused
farming acquisitions in less-developed countries. Consistent with its status as a prominent dairy
19State farms are known in China as Nong Ken Ju, or reclamation bureau farms, because they were built primarily in
undeveloped border regions, on reclaimed coastal areas or wetlands, and the outskirts of cities. According to Ministry of Ag-
riculture statistics, state farms account for about 5 percent of the value of China’s agricultural output. The state farm branches
include large-scale farms, food processing, distribution, and real estate businesses (Shao, 2015).
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brand in China, a major focus of Bright’s acquisitions has been dairy products. Bright acquired
majority stakes in New Zealand’s Synlait in 2010, and Australian yogurt producer Manassen Foods
in 2011; formed a joint venture with New Zealand’s Dunsandel Pure Canterbury milk powder plant
in 2013; and purchased a majority stake in Tnuva, an Israeli dairy producer and distributor in 2014.
Other acquisitions are oriented toward emerging demands in China. Bright acquired a French
winery, an Italian olive oil producer, and Great Britain’s breakfast cereal company Weetabix—its
largest acquisition—in 2012. Bright acquired 50 percent of New Zealand lamb and beef producer
Silver Fern Farms in 2016. Bright’s acquisitions have been larger than those of most Chinese inves-
tors; they range from $58 million for Synlait to $1.9 billion for Weetabix and $2.1 billion for Tnuva.
New Hope Group
A few private Chinese companies like New Hope Group have become significant overseas inves-
tors. New Hope began in 1982 as a venture launched by four brothers to raise quail and is now one of
the largest animal feed companies in the world (Fu, 2011). New Hope’s primary business is in feed
milling, a highly competitive sector in China with relatively low margins, but the company adjusted its
strategy to focus on emerging demands in China and sectors with higher value-added. New Hope has
forward-integrated into poultry, meat, and dairy in its home market, notably by a merger with poultry
producer Liuhe Group in 2005. It operates a string of dairy farms and processors across China.
New Hope Group was one of the first private agribusiness companies in China to invest overseas.
After opening its first feed mill in Vietnam during 1999, New Hope made additional investments
in Southeast Asia. The company expanded to other developing countries like Egypt, Mongolia, and
South Africa, with a focus on selling feed products in local markets.
New Hopes more recent overseas business included acquisitions, joint ventures, and collaborations
with other investors and governments in beef, dairy, and shellfish production and processing to posi-
tion the company to profit from dietary diversification in China. The geographic focus has shifted
from developing countries to Australia and New Zealand. This includes investment in an Australian
beef producer, a joint venture in Australian dairy farms with local investors, and a deal with New
Zealand’s Synlait to supply milk to a New Hope subsidiary in China. According to New Hope’s
chairman, the company has pursued joint ventures with local companies rather than outright acquisi-
tions, a strategy designed to build goodwill with the public in New Zealand and Australia—where
opposition to Chinese investment has risen—and to reduce the need for investment capital (Number
One Business News, 2016).
As a major importer of raw materials for feed operations in China, New Hope has also explored
investments in grain trading. In 2015, the company acquired 20 percent of Lansing Trade Group
LLC, a grain and energy-trading company based in Kansas with offices in North and South
America, Britain, and China. New Hope’s $127-million, 20-percent stake is much smaller than state-
owned COFCO’s acquisition of trading companies Nidera and Noble Agriculture.
In 2010, New Hope founded an investment fund to finance agribusiness mergers and acquisitions
in partnership with Japans Mitsui &Co, Archer Daniels Midland, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings,
and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. The fund acquired a U.S. food processing
company and an Australian beef processor. In 2016, New Hope reached an agreement with Zhejiang
provincial officials and a private equity fund to set up an Overseas Agricultural Development Fund
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that will finance international supply chain ventures supporting an agribusiness trade hub planned
for the Zhoushan Islands in Zhejiang.
New Hope leveraged Government agreements to expand its business, including a bilateral “Sino-
Australian 100-Year Agricultural and Food Safety Partnership” signed by China’s president and
Australia’s prime minister in 2014. The company spearheaded an agreement signed with China’s
Zhejiang Province and Australia’s Trade Commission in 2016 to set up a Sino-Australia trade
processing zone, which will focus on trade and logistics for animal protein products. In New
Zealand, New Hope initiated a cooperative agreement with a Government research institute to study
health and nutrition aspects of dairy products.
WH Group/Shuanghui
WH Group—previously known as Shuanghui International—is a holding company headquartered in
Hong Kong that owns Shuanghui Development, one of China’s largest meat companies. In 2013, WH
Group acquired Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion, the largest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. agricul-
tural or food company.
The Chinese pork company Shuanghui was founded in the 1980s when the municipal government
of a small city in Henan Province turned over an unprofitable slaughterhouse to its managers. It
was renamed Shuanghui and became a private company focused on the slaughter and processing
of pork—the predominant meat consumed in China. Smithfield was WH Group/Shuanghui’s first
significant overseas acquisition. Before the acquisition, sales by Smithfield Foods were twice those
of Shuanghui. Acquiring Smithfield made WH Group the largest pork company in the world.
WH Group also gained Smithfield’s holdings of meat processing and swine production companies
in Europe, which include Animex, a Polish pork and poultry processor that derives 25-30 percent of
annual revenue from exports, and Agri Plus, a vertically integrated swine production company that
supplies hogs to Animex. A Romanian Smithfield subsidiary operates the largest pork processing plant
in that country, using pigs sourced from another Romanian Smithfield subsidiary. In 2015, Smithfield
sold its 37-percent equity interest in Spanish pork producer Campofrio for $354 million. In 2017, WH
Group sought regulatory approval for acquisition of Pini Poland, another Polish meat company. The
Group further expanded U.S. operations in 2017 when Smithfield acquired Clougherty Packing LLC, a
company that owns two U.S. meat brands and a sales network in the Western United States.
WH Group has never explicitly stated its motives for acquiring Smithfield Foods. Observers surmised
that the company sought access to pork supplies for China’s growing market and Smithfield’s tech-
nology, food safety, and management capacity (Tao and Xie, 2015). The acquisition may have been
supported by public officials and banks as part of an initiative to upgrade sanitation and technology in
the pork industry (the purchase was funded by a $4 billion loan from the Bank of China).
China’s pork industry is highly fragmented, with weak backward and forward linkages. While
Shuanghui was ranked as China’s top meat company in 2005, it was one of a handful of large pork
companies with a specialization in processed pork products.20 Most hogs are slaughtered in small
abattoirs and sold to consumers by local meat vendors and supermarkets the same day they are
slaughtered. Initiatives to consolidate pork processors, build large-scale farms, and strengthen links
between processors and producers of swine were featured in a Five-Year Plan and subsidy programs
20See rankings of pork processors and pig producers reported by WattAgNet.
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launched during 2006-10 and received continued emphasis in subsequent years. China’s emergence
as a major pork importer in 2008 and ongoing concerns about disease epidemics and food safety
incidents prompted Government and industry officials to reshape the industry.
Smithfield was known for both large, technically advanced meatpacking facilities and vertical
control over swine breeding and production. Smithfields engagement in research and development
and the breeding and propagation of pigs reflects its own past acquisitions of swine-farming compa-
nies. According to the list of U.S. assets under Smithfields ownership (ta ble 11), Smithfield’s 450
hog farms have the capacity to hold 933,000 sows and over 2.5 million nursery pigs.21 The regional
concentration of Smithfield’s sow and nursery capacity in North Carolina and Virginia reflects the
focus on breeding and multiplier farms. The company has research facilities in North Carolina and
Texas. It supplies piglets to over 2,000 independent farmers and contract growers who raise approxi-
mately 16 million hogs to market weight annually. Midwestern Corn Belt States are the predominant
region for finishing hogs, reflecting their proximity to feed resources.
WH Group appears to have taken a relatively passive approach to managing Smithfield, which
retained its brand, facilities, and management after the acquisition. Although Smithfield announced
a change in organizational structure during 2015, there was no discernible change in the company’s
U.S. operations during the first 2 years after its acquisition by WH Group. Each of its executives
had extensive experience in U.S. food and agricultural industries, suggesting that WH Group gave
Smithfield considerable autonomy in its U.S. operations.22
Table 11
Smithfield U.S. farm locations and size as of 2015
Location Employees Sows Nursery pigs Finishing spaces
Colorado 210 24,000 92,000 100,000
Midwest (Iowa, South Dakota,
Illinois, Nevada, Missouri)
500 133,000 224,000 2,933,000
Missouri 1,100 105,000 364,000 695,000
North Carolina (East central) 300 132,000 436,000 1,240,000
North Carolina (South central) 500 220,000 760,000 1,800,000
North Carolina (West) 400 100,000 300,000 680,000
Oklahoma 220 45,000 NA NA
Utah 450 74,000 156,000 454,000
Virginia 415 100,000 236,000 1,000,000
U.S. Totals 4,095 933,000 2,568,000 8,902,000
Note: Smithfield Premium Genetics also has research facilities in North Carolina and Texas. It has wholly-owned operations in
Poland and Romania and two joint-venture operations in Mexico. NA = not available.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of information compiled from Smithfield Hog Production Division
(Smithfield, 2016).
21USDA’s report on foreign holdings of agricultural land listed a smaller number of 50 farms owned by Murphy-Brown
Farms that was renamed Smithfield Hog Production Division in 2015. Farms were located in North Carolina, Virginia, Mis-
souri, Texas, Illinois, Utah, and Oklahoma.
22See Smithfield February 16, 2015 press release, “Smithfield Foods Announces New Structure to Accelerate Growth.
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Many observers presumed that WH Group acquired Smithfield in order to import pork from the United
States. WH Group began test-marketing Smithfield-branded pork in China soon after the acquisition.
In 2015, WH Group opened a new processing plant to produce “American-style” bacon, ham, and
sausages under the Smithfield brand for the China market. In January 2016, inspection and quaran-
tine authorities opened a facility to receive and inspect imported pork in Luohe City—the site of WH
Group’s headquarters—capable of handling 400,000 mt of meat annually (Xinhua Food, 2016).
Customs data suggest that the acquisition has played at most a minor role in China’s pork trade. The
Smithfield acquisition took place in 2013, 2 years after China became a steady importer of pork
(fig. 8).23 China’s pork imports did rise sharply in 2015 and 2016, but the increase reflected tight
supplies and high prices in China during those years. Most of the import surge came from countries
in Europe, Canada, and Brazil where Smithfield does not operate. Imports from the United States
were stagnant during 2014-15; while they doubled in 2016, they did not grow as fast as imports from
Europe and other countries. Poland and Romania—European countries where Smithfield has subsid-
iaries—were also not significant sources of import growth.
0
200
400
600
800
1,000
1,200
1,400
1,600
1,800
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
WH Group
acquires Smithfield
Figure 8
China pork imports before and after investment in Smithfield
Note: Imports of pork, harmonized system code 0203. Europe: Germany, Spain, Denmark, France, U.K., Netherlands,
Ireland, Hungary, Belgium, Romania, Poland. Others: Canada, Brazil, Chile, Taiwan.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service analysis of China customs statistics accessed through IHS Markit (2017).
Thousand metric tons
Other countries
From Europe
From U.S.
23COFCO acquired a stake in Smithfield in 2008—the first year China imported significant amounts of pork—but
divested it in 2012.
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Challenges Encountered in Mergers and Acquisitions
China Ministry of Commerce (2016) observed that Chinese companies have faced challenges when
acquiring overseas firms due to differences in legal and institutional systems abroad, adapting
management structure to differing cultures, and accommodating different corporate values in
the acquired firm. Economist Intelligence Unit (2010) found that negative perceptions of Chinese
companies was a chief barrier to success investing abroad—especially in resource-dependent
sectors. In interviews with Chinese companies, Economist Intelligence United identified weak due
diligence, “failure to think through a vision for the acquired entity,” and failure to “gain agreement
on this vision with existing management” as common mistakes.
While the acquisitions made COFCO one of the top global grain trading companies by asset value,
the company nevertheless encountered unexpected difficulties. After COFCO’s chairman left the
company in 2016, the new chairman portrayed a less ambitious business plan, more focused on
procuring commodities for the China market than on becoming a company with global scope that
would challenge other multinational trading companies. The company was also hit by resignations of
several key executives and traders who had been recruited from other multinationals. Soon after the
acquisition of Nidera, that company experienced large losses due to a rogue trader, and an overstate-
ment of assets in Nideras Brazilian operations was discovered. Shuanghui International experienced
financial pressure when an initial public offering raised less capital than expected, crimping its
ability to repay a loan that financed its acquisition of Smithfield Foods.
Like COFCO, Bright has experienced disappointment with two of its largest acquisitions. Israeli
dairy company Tnuva experienced losses in sales, profits, and estimated market value after Bright
acquired a majority stake in that company. In 2017, Bright sold its stake in Weetabix 5 years after
acquiring it, reportedly due to disappointing sales of the traditional British breakfast cereal in China.
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Discussion and Conclusions
U.S. farmers, agribusiness, and Government leaders should be aware of China’s overseas investment
strategies since transactions can be worth millions or even billions of dollars. The scale of China’s
outbound agricultural investments appears to be less than is often portrayed in global news media,
but investment is nevertheless growing at a rapid pace. Chinese officials have ambitious strategic
plans for agricultural investments to help reshape patterns of agricultural trade and increase China’s
influence in global markets.
Chinese investments present both opportunities and challenges for U.S. farmers, business leaders,
and policymakers. Chinese investments can bring benefits to owners of land and other assets, and
Chinese investors potentially can help U.S. products gain access to China by facilitating access to
customers or meeting registration requirements and standards in the China market. On the other
hand, foreign ownership of land and other agricultural assets reduces the proportion of income
received by U.S. residents from a given dollar value of exports. Concerns have been raised about
threats to U.S. food security, food safety, and environmental protection from Chinese investment,
but these risks are difficult to rigorously establish and quantify.
Most Chinese agricultural investment has bypassed the United States. North America has received
the smallest share among all continents of China’s outbound agricultural investment, despite being
top supplier of China’s agricultural imports and a top destination for China’s nonagricultural invest-
ments. Apart from the acquisition of Smithfield Foods in 2013, Chinese investment in U.S. farmland
and agribusiness has been small.
The small number of U.S. agricultural investments appears to reflect Chinese investors’ greater
interest in other destinations rather than U.S. regulatory or other barriers. U.S. policymakers
mandate reporting of foreign farmland acquisitions and Federal reviews of Chinese investments by
the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Several States have
banned foreign ownership of farmland. However, it is not clear that these regulatory hurdles have
been a deterrent to Chinese investment in agriculture. To date, CFIUS reviews have not blocked any
agricultural investments. Some State governments recruit and assist prospective foreign investors,
and assistance in clearing regulatory hurdles is available from attorneys, bankers, and consultants.
The Paulson Institute—a nongovernmental think tank—has advocated more Chinese agribusiness
investment in the United States.
China’s agricultural investors are mainly small companies focusing on neighboring countries in
Southeast Asia, Russia’s Far East, and Africa that have unexploited land and are often receptive
to Chinese investment. Agricultural investment is now closely tied to China’s One Belt One Road
initiative, which targets countries between China and Western Europe. Chinese companies seeking
sources of dairy, beef, and lamb imports have focused their investments and partnerships on New
Zealand and Australia.
A broader concern for U.S. exporters and business leaders is the potential for Chinese investments
to steer trade toward competing countries. For example, Chinese investments in New Zealand dairy,
Australian beef, and Ukrainian corn may bolster the share of commodities China imports from these
countries versus competing U.S. commodities. Some of China’s guiding strategies for agricultural
investment aim to reduce reliance on the United States for agricultural imports by nurturing new
suppliers, steering more of the profits from Chinese imports to Chinese trading and logistics
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companies, improving China’s capacity to develop its own agricultural technology, and using
commercial agricultural projects as a platform for dispensing China’s foreign aid.
Market fundamentals are likely to be the chief factor determining the volume of China’s agricultural
imports and whether they are supplied by the United States. A very similar investment program by
Japan in earlier decades raised concerns about prospects for U.S. farm exports and effects of invest-
ment on the U.S. food industry, but the United States is still the leading supplier of Japans agricul-
tural imports. Japanese investors played a role in developing Brazil as an exporter, and Japanese
companies are now active competitors for established grain-trading companies. Similarly, Chinese
investors may influence agricultural trade patterns at the margins and bring more competition to
agricultural markets.
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... Source: by the author according to the data (Gale and Gooch, 2018;World Investment Report 2019/ UNCTAD, 2019Global Food & Agriculture Investment Outlook, 2018;Levandivsʹkyy, 2019;Prokopchuk, Horbachova, 2018;) ...
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KOZÁKOVÁ, Jana [50 %] - TLUČHOŘ, Jan [50 %]. Selected aspects of corporate culture in multinationals operating in Slovakia. In Theory and practice of the international management and entrepreneurship in multicultural environment. 1st. ed. 123 s. ISBN 978-80-552-2336-0. Theory and practice of the international management and entrepreneurship in multicultural environment. Nitra : Slovak University of Agriculture, 2021, s. 8-21. Dostupné na internete: <https://doi.org/10.15414/2021.9788055223360>.
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Thesis
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How can we feed China? This continual question intersects the human, social, and economic problems that China has confronted for at least over a century. This project stems from my intellectual and activist concern to reimagine our food future in terms of the challenge of feeding the people and caring for the agricultural environment in China. Agriculture, which includes peasants, villages and the land, has been an enduring material and theoretical subject for the Chinese communist agrarian revolution and transformation. Drawing on Chen Kuan-hsing’s Asia as Method (2010), I analyse farming as an evolving social and historical-material practice. This entails a decolonial contextualization in rethinking Chinese modernisation. I propose the concept of farming as method to analyse the shifting conjuncture of food production and consumption within specific historical, social and material conditions—namely from socialist to reformist China. I ground this with empirical data collected during my ethnography of food activism in the Guangdong area. My thesis is structured by three major moments. First, for the Maoist “long collectivisation” (1950s–70s), I analyse what I call the “socialist toilet system,” which transformed the ancient practice of recycling human waste into the Maoist mass movement bringing together agricultural productivity and public hygiene. I argue that this provides a metabolic account for understanding the shifting condition of local and geopolitics under the Cold War to demonstrate how food and agriculture became an ideological battlefield. Second, I show that the movement of agrarian renaissance in South China countered the reformist development, which resulted in pressing food issues such as the decline of farming labour, widespread environmental pollution, and food insecurity. These attempts for revitalising “traditional” farming knowledge becomes a cultural method for rural advocacy and later for food activism of community-supported agriculture (CSA) to consider peasants’ Mao-era experience, grain production and collective need. Third, I investigate a participatory method for forming producer-consumer connections in response to the recurring food scares in China, which highlights a rural-urban nexus fueled by the convivial actions of consumers. I focus on the articulation of a “convivial technique,” a participatory method that recognises and negotiates responsibilities among different actors caring for the agricultural commons. I conclude that farming as method provides a historically grounded, socially engaged, and ecologically concerned approach to think about our food present and future.
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China’s growing food imports have aroused anxiety over global food security. Paradoxically the country also maintains a policy of food self-sufficiency as the Chinese leadership reiterates that the country must “hold the rice bowl in its own hands.” Importing large volumes of food while emphasizing self-sufficiency poses a puzzle in understanding food politics in China. This paper examines political and economic forces behind the dual strategy, i.e. seeking food imports and emphasizing self-reliance. The underproduction crisis of food and the neoliberal globalization of the food supply have contributed to rising food imports, whereas the anxiety over national food sovereignty and the need to support rural livelihoods pull China toward food self-reliance. Using statistical and archival data, the paper reveals the critical conjunctures of food imports and self-reliance in China in the past seven decades and the contradictions within the dual food strategy.
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Книгата е посветена на търговско-инвестиционните отно-шения между България и Китай, но на практика са анализирани широк кръг от проблеми, които изясняват особеностите на икономическия модел на Китай. Анализирани са икономическите и търговските политики на Китай, които лежат в основата на израстването на тази страна до световна икономическа и търговска сила и един от основните износители в света. Дефинирани са външно-търговските отношения на Китай с основните търговски партньори – Европейския съюз и САЩ, както и противоречивите им взаимоотношения в търсенето на конкурентни предимства за тяхната продукция в света. Акцентът пада и върху китайската политика, насочена към търговското проникване на Китай в раз-лични региони на света, изразена чрез инициативата „Един пояс, един път“. Търговските отношения между България и Китай са обект на специален анализ, като се разкриват възможностите за разширение на външноикономическите връзки между Китай и Бъл-гария като страна, членка на ЕС. Съществен аспект в книгата е моделът за привличане на преки чуждестранни инвестиции в Китай, който сам по себе си се различава съществено от класическа-та теория, която обяснява еволюцията и същността на преките чуждестранни инвестиции. На основата на емпирично изследване са представени китайските инвестиции в България, като са подчертани тяхната същност и перспективи на развитие.
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