While data from China should be viewed with skepticism, most reports show that their domestic pig prices have fallen by 65 to 70% since the beginning of the year (Figure 2). Although they recovered slightly in October, returns in the preceding months were well below cost of production. Looking ahead, according to the USDA, China’s pork production is expected to fall 5% below 2021 levels in 2022 as the domestic price drop triggers another liquidation of the breeding stock. And as China looks to fill that supply gap, their pork imports are likely to increase by at least the same amount.
Pork isn’t the only protein on the Chinese menu, of course. China broke the record for the highest volume of imported meat in a month in March this year, with more than one million tons shipped by weight. According to Chinese customs data for the first eight months of 2021, meat imports to China increased by 1.7% year-on-year.
The volatile supply and price of pork has helped beef gain market share, and the USDA expects Chinese beef imports to grow for the eighth straight year in 2022. Rabobank reports that China is now the second largest consumer of beef in the world – behind the US. China’s pork problems, along with a lack of supply or access from other beef exporters such as Brazil and Australia, have allowed it to become the US’s third largest beef market, with record volumes shipped there in 10 of the past 15 months.
Australian beef exports to China climbed to the second largest monthly volume of the year in October, but the year-to-date remains more than 40% lower than the previous year. Total beef exports from January to October were back at 16%, showing that China has taken much more of a hit in this market than other countries. While a lack of supply and skyrocketing domestic prices (not to mention a ban on specific Australian processors) have curtailed trade with China of late, there’s no denying that the US has gained a serious foothold on the Chinese market. beef market and will continue to fight there .
Although beef to China has been one of Australia’s most lucrative markets in recent years, luckily the country has a love for our lamb too. Australian lamb exports to China have increased by 18% compared to 2020 to October, while total lamb exports have only increased by 3% over the same period. (Figure 4) However, sheepmeat has not experienced the same growth, in fact it has gone the other way: sheepmeat exports fell by 11% in the period up to October. In comparison, in 2019 we sent about 12,000 tons of mutton to China, half this year, just over 6,000 tons so far.