The most recent data from China Customs shows shipments of pork into China reached a record-setting 114,700t, more than doubling the amount it imported in March 2015.
UK levy board AHDB Pork described the international surge in China’s pork imports during 2015 as “exceptional” and said the pork-hungry nation shows “no signs of slowing down”. The high domestic price of pork (£2.80p per kg) is fuelling the country’s drive to import pork in ever-increasing quantities, the levy board added.
China’s domestic pork producers have been unable to capitalise on the strong retail price of pork, with increasingly strenuous environmental regulation preventing the larger companies from expanding.
Demise of backyard farmers
“I don’t know the full details of the Chinese regulations,” said AHDB Pork’s market intelligence manager Stephen Howarth. “However, as I understand it, there are new restrictions on locating large-scale pig farms near population centres or rivers. This has meant some producers have had to shut down or relocate. On top of this, many of the small backyard producers have stopped production and there is little sign of them coming back.”
Europe has benefited the most from China’s inability to produce enough pork to keep pace with demand: exports from Europe were up 93% in the first quarter of 2016, when compared with Q1 2015.
Germany and Spain – who recently usurped Denmark’s position as Europe’s top pork exporter – dominated trade with China. But all major European pork producers recorded a year-on-year increase in Chinese pork exports, said AHDB Pork.
Brazil wins access
Imports from non-EU countries also jumped sharply when compared with the same period a year ago.
The US has been buoyed by the fact 16 processing sites have been accredited by Chinese officials. This is part of a Ractopamine-free adherence scheme and paves the way for higher volume exports from the US to China.
Canada’s currency depreciation has helped volume exports of pork to 28,300t in y-o-y terms from January to March 2016.
“The other two [non-EU] countries with access [to China] are Chile and Brazil,” added Howarth. “The latter grew but more slowly than others. Brazil has only just regained access, so its volumes are picking up from a standing start. Bearing that in mind, they were reasonably strong in Q1 and are likely to continue growing through the rest of the year.”