The decade’s fastest-rising imports in the 12 biggest countries

China’s frozen beef imports have gone through the roof.
China’s frozen beef imports have gone through the roof.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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A decade ago, China did not import much frozen cow meat. The nation brought in about $30 million worth of frozen bovine products (mostly beef) at the end of the 2000s. About half of it came from Australia, and most of the rest came from Uruguay and New Zealand.

How things have changed. Today, China imports over $6 billion of frozen beef, a figure that is quickly rising. Argentina and Brazil are the main suppliers, getting China nearly half of its frozen beef. This increase in demand is part of a move among some Chinese to eat less pork and lower their fat intake. China’s desire for beef raised prices globally.

A country’s fastest-rising import can tell us a lot about what is happening in its economy. China’s frozen beef imports rise is a symbol of the country’s increasing wealth and move toward Western-style diets.

We used trade data to look for the fastest-growing major import for the world’s 12 most populous countries. For our analysis, we looked at the most recent trade data available for each country, and compared it to 10 years earlier 1. The category names in the table below are slightly edited versions of the product categories used for international trade.

One notable change is the huge rise in plastic waste imports to Indonesia, which resulted from China’s ban on importing the “product” starting in 2018. China’s decision has had ripple effects throughout the world, leading to new business opportunities and environmental degradations in a number of Southeast Asian countries.

Another interesting indicator is the rise in floating docks and other vessels for allowing offshore drilling in Nigeria. Oil companies working in Nigeria are choosing to move more drilling offshore to avoid sabotage and kidnapping. As a result, firms imported over $3 billion in offshoring drilling vessels over the last year, almost all of which came from South Korea.