Hong Kong now imports nearly every single thing it eats

A rare patch.
A rare patch.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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Hong Kong

You’ll have no problem finding a cafe, bar, or restaurant in Hong Kong. The city has a food and beverage outlet for every 300 people, one of the highest such ratios in the world.

But the sense of abundance is deceiving. In truth, land-scarce Hong Kong is among the world’s most “food-vulnerable” places, importing nearly everything it eats and drinks. About 90% of its food supply is imported, according to the food and health bureau, and most of it comes from mainland China, including all the fresh beef, 94% of the fresh pork, and 92% of the vegetables. Brazil supplies frozen beef and pork, Norway salmon, and the US, the Philippines, and Thailand much of the fruit.

“Hong Kong’s over-reliance on imports exposes the city to global commodity disruptions and price fluctuations,” food researcher Daisy Tam, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said during a recent TEDx talk in Hong Kong. Japanese bank Nomura’s latest “food vulnerability index” ranked Hong Kong as the world’s 17th most vulnerable place, not far behind such countries as Bangladesh, Syria, and Algeria.

The dependency on food imports goes largely unnoticed in day-to-day life, but once in a while shoppers are rudely reminded of it. Earlier this year vegetable prices spiked about 30% (link in Chinese) because mainland China had an unusually cold winter.

It wasn’t always thus. Sixty-five years ago, Hong Kong produced about two-thirds of the vegetables it consumed. Today, it produces about 2%.