When you hear about China, it’s often regarding their huge population, their strong growth or their dominance in exports. But, when it comes to baby milk, China is certainly an importer – and a big one at that. For many new parents, getting the ‘real thing’ when it comes to baby formula is absolutely essential.
Chinese baby formula is feared by many new parents, due to the potential for it to contain hormones and dangerous chemicals. This has led them to go to great lengths to ensure they have sufficient supplies of imported baby formula, often only trusting it if it has been hand carried from overseas. However, such is the demand for this safe version of baby milk that the global response has been to place restrictions on it. Essentially, we are seeing a system of rationing emerging.
Hong Kong was the first government to limit the amount bought to two cans of formula per day, with the potential for a fine of over $64,000 and up to two years in prison for those who do not abide by the rules. The UK has now also responded with restrictions on the quantity that can be purchased and other countries may follow suit if the excess demand continues.
According to Sainsburys:
As a short-term measure, retailers including Sainsbury’s are limiting the amount of baby milk powder that people can buy. In this way we aim to ensure a constant supply for our customers and we therefore hope they won’t be inconvenienced.
The Chinese government has reacted to this and is aiming to restore confidence in the food industry, but as yet there has been little positive effect and until there are 100% guarantees of food safety the surge in demand for baby formula from abroad is likely to continue.
This policy of rationing is clearly not only going to affect Chinese parents looking to import baby formula, but is already having an impact on domestic residents. Parents living in the UK are feeling the rationing effects and are also being restricted in terms of how many cans of formula they can buy per day. For many families this isn’t a problem, but for those with multiple children and for whom a trip to the supermarket is not a simple task, the restrictions on baby milk purchases is likely to become a problem. The following articles consider this topic.
Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions BBC News, Celia Hatton (10/4/13)
Stop rationing information about baby formula milk The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (9/4/13)
Baby milk rationed in UK over China export fear BBC News (8/4/13)
Baby Formula rationed in UK over China demand Sky News (9/4/13)
Supermarkets limit sales of baby milk to stop bulk buying to feed China market Independent, Emma Bamford (8/4/13)
Cahinese thirst for formula spurs rationing Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Entrepreneurs milk Chinese thirst for formula Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Baby milk powder rationing introduced by supermarkets The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (8/4/13)
- Using a diagram of demand and supply, illustrate how a shortage for a product can emerge. How does the price mechanism usually work to eliminate a shortage?
- What actions can be taken to deal with a shortage?
- How will more stringent regulations by the Chinese government help to restore confidence in Chinese baby milk formula?
- What impact will the imports of baby milk formula into China have on China’s exchange rate and its balance of payments?
- How could this situation be taken advantage of by entrepreneurs? Could it be used as a viable business opportunity?