Japan: 2017 German pork imports in stellar growth

By Jens Kastner

- Last updated on GMT

German pork exports to Japan have increased substantially
German pork exports to Japan have increased substantially

Related tags: European union, International trade

Japan’s German pork imports grew by 36% in the January-October period of last year (2017) compared to the same period of 2016, representing by far the highest growth rate for national exports of pork to Japan.

The promising rise from a low base has encouraged the German pork industry to see the Japanese market as a worthwhile target, amid underwhelming demand elsewhere.

Japan’s latest import statistics indicate it imported 15,970 tonnes of pork from January-October, out of total pork imports of 763,570t. While this is small compared to the USA’s, Canada’s and Denmark’s 217,400t, 174,280t and 96,260t respectively, these larger suppliers posted weaker comparative performances. US sales fell by 0.7%; Canada increased 19%; and Denmark was up 0.4%

Spain snatching market share

While Japan has particularly high-quality and hygiene requirements, which German imports fulfil, demand in Germany and China has been on the decline, with Spain steadily grabbing market share from Germany within the EU​,” said Dr Albert Hortmann-Scholten, a meat markets consultant with the Agricultural Chamber of Lower Saxony, in an interview with GlobalMeatNews​.

This leaves pork exporters with only a few third ​[non-EU] countriesto focus on, including Japan, South Korea and South Africa​,” he added.

Japan banned German pork imports from 2009 to 2012 over outbreaks of African swine fever among wild boars, and Japanese demand has since stayed muted owing to remaining import bans on European fresh and chilled pork.

According to Hortmann-Scholten, this has put German pork at a disadvantage over US and Canadian imports, while Germany’s high average slaughter weight of 97kg serves as a disadvantage vis-à-vis Danish exports, amid Danish average slaughter weights standing at approximately 85kg. 

The Japanese prefer smaller cuts, which are easier to generate from smaller pigs​,” he explained.

Japan’s January-October pork import bill recorded an overall increase of 7.4%, with Spain posting the second-fastest acceleration, at 19.3%.

This was followed by Canada’s 19%, with Mexico also posting strong growth, at 16.3%.

And more German sales may follow. The recently agreed Japan-EU free trade agreement (FTA) will probably not come into force before 2019, but is likely to shift the balance to the benefit of the Europeans even before the FTA comes into effect. 

Under the FTA, the EU will gain the most in access for processed pork products, where Japanese duties of currently 20% will be phased out over five years.

The FTA has been long in the making, so the industry has likely been preparing itself accordingly​,” said Hortmann-Scholten.

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