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Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 12 News List

China ousts US as top consumer

GROWTH MOMENTUM The country now uses more commodities than the US in almost every sector, with the US retaining its lead only in the consumption of oil


A man cycles past cooling towers of the coal-powered Fuxin Electricity Plant in Fuxin, Liaoning Province yesterday. A report released on Wednesday by the Earth Policy Institute said that China has passed the US in consumption of every basic commodity except oil. Coal accounts for two-thirds of China's energy consumption, the report said.


For decades, while China was closed to business from the US, American business lusted over a boundless merchandise market that a country so big with so many consumers was certain to offer one day.

Now that day has come: China has surpassed the US in consumption of every basic food, energy and industrial commodity except oil.

Even in consumer goods, the Chinese have overtaken the Americans in refrigerators, watch 1 1/2 times as many television sets and use 1 2/3 as many cellphones. Only in automobiles does China still lag, with barely one-tenth the number of motor vehicles on its roads as in the US.

A report released on Wednesday by the environmental advocate Earth Policy Institute said, however, that per capita consumption in China remains far below that of the US.

China's 1.3 billion people ate 57.6 million tonnes of meat last year, for instance, compared with 34.2 million tonnes consumed by the 297 million people in the US. That's an annual intake of 49kg of meat -- mainly pork, with half the world's pigs in China -- for every Chinese and 127kg of steak, hot dogs and fried chicken for every American.

Fertilizer to grow more food is a measure of more growth to come in China's food consumption. It was double that of the US last year, and both countries cover roughly 9.6 million square kilometers.

Steel is the commodity that most reflects a modernizing country, and China was using more than twice as much as the US by 2003.

"Steel consumption has climbed to levels not seen in any other country," the report said.

The consumption report said American dominance in automobiles -- 226 million to 24 million -- is one factor in why the US uses three times as much oil as China. Another major fossil fuel product, coal, amounts to two-thirds of China's energy consumption, and its homes and factories burn 40 percent more than is used in the US.

The report was issued on the day the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement designed to cut into pollutants caused by fossil fuels, the so-called greenhouse gases, came into effect. The protocol has no effect on greenhouse gas production in either country. As negotiated, the protocol considers China a developing country that need not cut back. The US withdrew from the pact four years ago.

To feed its consumption, China imports massive quantities of grain, soybeans, iron ore, aluminum, platinum and many other products, which the report said puts its economy "at the center of the world raw materials economy. Its voracious appetite for materials is driving up not only commodity prices but ocean shipping rates as well."

Many of those goods come through government-to-government agreements from countries rich in resources such as Brazil, Kazakhstan, Russia, Indonesia and Australia. Ironically, China keeps its trade balance stable partly by maintaining the largest surplus of any country ever with the US, US$162 billion last year. That was one-fourth of the overall record US$617.7 billion US trade deficit.

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