Dairy is China's largest imported food item and has an estimated value of $9.54 billion, according to a report by the Chinese Ministry that regulates Food Imports (the AQSIQ).
Dairy is imported more than oils and seeds, which are estimated at $9.45 billion and ahead of aquatic products, which are estimated at $7.29 billion, it says.
Meat is China's fourth highest imported food import and is valued at $6.46 billion, it says.
James O'Donnell of Bord Bia's Shanghai Office says that the report highlights the importance that imported food plays in the Chinese market and notes a slowdown in the overall value of food imports since 2012.
In addition it highlights a stricter enforcement policy to deal with substandard items, he said.
China imports food from over 192 countries, including the EU, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), New Zealand and Australia, O'Donnell says.
O'Donnell says that China has announced plans to reduce customs duties for imported finished consumer foods, which with the lower value of the euro will prove advantageous for EU exporters.
He says that according to China's import statistics, Europe has seen a significant increase in its exports of dairy to China in the last two years.
In 2013 France represented the largest share at over 25.4% of the total, followed by the Netherlands at 24.9% and Germany at 13.4%, he says.
In 2014 70% of infant formula milk powder was sourced out of the EU. Liquid milk imports from the EU were estimated to have increased by over 50% in 2014 to just less than 300,000t, O'Donnell says.
Oldenburger, a UHT milk from Germany’s DMK group, leads the pack in this category, building market share based on a very competitive pricing strategy, he says.