By ROD McGUIRK
GUNNEDAH, Australia (AP) â¿¿ Tony Clift's family has plowed the rich black soil of Australia's Liverpool Plains for six generations. The thought of selling never crossed his mind â¿¿ until a Chinese company came to town.
Shenhua Watermark Coal offered to buy farms at unheard-of prices. The decision wasn't easy, Clift says. His pioneer ancestors settled the land in 1832. But farming is a business nowadays, and selling his 6,500 acres (2,600 hectares) made business sense.
"If someone offers you a whole heap of money, you've got to take it," says the 50-year-old father of two, sitting at the kitchen table of the palatial hilltop home he built with the windfall. A sea of yellow stretches out below, canola fields planted on less fertile land he bought 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the north.
EDITOR'S NOTE â¿¿ This story is part of "China's Reach," a project tracking China's influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how it is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP's reporting on China's Reach, and join the conversation about it, using (hash)APChinaReach on Twitter.
Soaring coal prices fueled by China's economic growth have made mining parts of the Australian landscape far more lucrative than farming it. It's one example of how China's emergence as a global trading power may transform countries in ways never contemplated and not yet fully understood.
The Associated Press analyzed China's trade with other countries as a percentage of their gross domestic product, using an International Monetary Fund database. It found that, on average, trade with China had climbed to 12.4 percent of GDP by 2011. By comparison, the peak reached with the U.S. in the past 30 years was 10 percent in 2001.
In Australia, where trade with China hit 7.7 percent of GDP last year, exports of coal and iron ore have helped Australia fend off recession for 21 years and deliver the largest trade surpluses in 140 years of record-keeping.