New Zealand has overtaken Australia and the United States as the number one exporter of food to China, according to a report.
The report, from the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs, said New Zealand's total food exports to China in 2018 were worth US$6.4 billion ($9.65b), of which dairy accounted for 62 per cent.
In 2017, food imports from New Zealand ranked third behind the US and Australia.
The latest import results showed that in 2018 China imported food from 185 countries and regions valued at US$73.6b - up 19.3 per cent on the previous year.
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The report said food imports from Chile grew the fastest, rising three places to become the 10th biggest supplier of imported food, with year-on-year growth of 50.2 per cent.
Dairy co-op Fonterra - New Zealand's biggest exporter - said the data confirmed the imported food industry had gained impetus in China.
"We are certainly seeing the benefits of this with the report showing that New Zealand dairy imports into China in 2018 grew by 15 per cent to US$4 billion," Fonterra's vice president Greater China Commercial, Paul Washer, said.
Washer said there was strong in-market demand from customers who were keen to promote the fact that their product used protein ingredients from the milk of New Zealand grass-fed cows.
"Customers believe this is an important point of difference for their consumers and their investors," Washer said in a statement.
Fonterra chairman John Monaghan said in last year's annual report that the co-op would "champion" New Zealand sourced milk.
"By championing it, we believe people will continue to seek out and pay a premium for products backed by our unique provenance story – our Co-op heritage, grass-fed New Zealand milk, backed by ethical and sustainable farming practices," he said.
Monaghan said the co-op would prioritise New Zealand milk, complemented by milk components sourced offshore only when required.
As a result, it would start to exit its offshore milk pools.
Fonterra has its loss-making China Farms division - which it last year wrote down by $203 million - under review.
Latest data from Stats NZ data showed dairy exports surged late last year.
In November, milk powder exports reached $1.1b - the highest value of milk powder exports for a November month since dairy exports peaked in 2013.
For the June, 2019 year, China was New Zealand's biggest trading partner, taking $18.95b worth of goods.
Two-way trade with China came to $32.2b in that year.
The second biggest partner was Australia, which took $14.07b in exports, and representing $27.09b in two-way trade.