China, a major buyer of U.S. wheat, will consider taking its business elsewhere if the severe drought in the United States cuts deeply into American grain exports and drives up prices, an official newspaper said Tuesday.

"We'd still have to import a certain amount of wheat to complement domestic demand and improve seed," an official of the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade told the English-language China Daily."But we'll compare the prices in the United States with those in Australia, Canada and South America," the official said.

Western agricultural analysts in Beijing said the report may be a signal to world wheat producers that China could be wooed from the U.S. market and is committed to increasing grain imports.

But, they added, a decrease in U.S. wheat exports would likely push up prices worldwide, leaving China to decide whether it can meet increased domestic demand.

"Our imports from the United States have been unstable in recent years," said an official from the Chinese National Oils and Cereals Import and Export Corp., quoted by the newspaper. "We bought more when the prices were low and less when the prices were high."

The severe drought in the U.S. Midwest already has pushed up wheat prices from $113 per ton last month to a current $150 per ton.

In the past year, China has nearly doubled its wheat imports, from 7.3 million tons to a forecasted 13 million tons in the fiscal year ending June 30.

China is expected to import about 4.4 million tons of mostly winter wheat from the United States by June 30, accounting for 31 percent of its wheat imports.