Romania selling 500,000 cattle and three million pigs to China
Beijing signs deal for cattle and pigs with sheep and other food produce on its shopping list
Hit by declining demand on the local market and in parts of Europe, Romanian farmers say China's growing meat needs may help them out of the hole.
Chinese officials last week signed two agreements to import 500,000 cattle and three million pigs from Romania over the next few years.
On a visit to Bucharest, Premier Li Keqiang said China also wanted to import sheep and possibly other food produce.
"We can buy all you can deliver," Li said after talks with Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta.
Fast-paced urbanisation and development of a middle class have radically changed the Chinese diet, with meat increasingly replacing or complementing rice and vegetables.
In their 2013 Agricultural Outlook, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said meat demand in China would continue to rise in the next 10 years, in line with rapid expansion of household refrigerators.
In rural northern Romania, breeder Dumitru Grigorean said China's plan to import livestock was good news.
"It would be a pity to miss the opportunity," Grigorean, 44, said.
"Of course I'd earn a lot more if I made (computer) tablets like the Chinese do, but I'm only good at raising cattle," he added.
Grigorean said he had invested some €80,000 (HK$843,000) in his farm, buying 70 French meat cows, and expected to start seeing a profit two years from now.
"The cows thrive on the rich grass and enjoy the fresh air even when it is cold," he said.
He said that several members of his cattle breeder association, who own up to 2,000 head of cattle each, were set to export cows to China.
But Dragos Frumosu, the leader of the food industry trade union, said Romania did not have enough cattle to meet Chinese demand.
"The solution would be to set up joint farms with Chinese capital or encourage local farmers to expand by using more European Union funds," he said.
Agriculture minister Daniel Constantin said Romania's cattle stock had dropped sharply from 2.8 million in 2001 to 1.2 million this year.
But he added that the government earmarked €830 million of public funds and European money to help breeders increase their stock.
Romania currently imports up to 70 per cent of its beef consumption and some 50 per cent of pork consumption, but also exports cattle and sheep mostly to Arab countries.
Constantin said Romania would have no problem exporting sheep as it has a surplus of around 5 million heads.
Shuanghui International's recent takeover of Smithfield Foods in the United States, which owns a pork producer near Timisoara in western Romania, will partly solve the pork exports issue.
The former Smithfield's Comtim farm breeds some one million pigs, out of a total of 5.7 million raised in Romania.
"Local farmers used to complain that they have no outlet for their meat," Stefan Minea, head of the Romalimenta food industry association, said.
"Now they can export to China. But they must make sure quality standards are met and the price is right," he added.