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UK pork exports reached record levels in May

22nd Jul 2019 / By Alistair Driver

UK pork exports soared to record levels in May, thanks largely to increased volumes heading to China. 

ShipFresh and frozen pork shipments were up 31% on a year earlier, at 21,200 tonnes during the month, the highest figure for May based on records going back to 1997.

Average export prices were also a little higher, so export value was up by just over a third, at £31.5 million. The growth was driven by shipments to China, which more than doubled compared to a year earlier, at 7,200 tonnes, as China buys up more pork globally to fill the gap created by its African swine fever outbreak. 

There were also smaller increases to most other key trading partners, reflecting the relative price competitiveness of UK pork compared to product from other EU exporters. UK offal exports, on the other hand, declined by 4% on May 2018.

Fresh/frozen pork imports in May were 16% lower than last year At 32,600 tonnes, with lower levels from nearly all suppliers, but particularly Denmark (-18% or -2,300 tonnes). With rising EU pig prices and a falling pound, average import prices were 15% higher, AHDB analyst Bethan Wilkins said.

China outlook

The expectation is that UK shipments to China will increase further, following the provisional approval of more UK plants for Chinese exports

Overall Chinese export demand is expected to increase globally in the second half of the year. The French media has reported that official data show China's pig herd totalled 347.6 million in the first half of the year, down a massive 60 million from the same period last year. Pork prices soared by a fifth in June alone.

"The worst is yet to come," said Jan-Peter Van Ferneij, who monitors foreign markets at the French Pork Institute.

However, the latest global market update from Genesus suggested that global import demand from China had not reached expected levels in recent months. It noted that many Chinese producers have opted to get out of pigs for fear of ASF infection, pushing more pigs through the system. 

Meanwhile, the scale of China's pork stores has become more apparent. Genesus's Bob Fraser said: "Suggestions from talks at last week’s National Pork Industry Conference (NPIC) in Wisconsin Dells, place it as large as the annual pork production of the US. Apparently beginning July 1st China was to begin testing meat at slaughterhouses and out of cold storage for ASF." 

Record production and lower-than-expected Chinese demand has seen pig prices plummet in the US and Canada. 

The picture from China remains unclear although the consensus is that import demand will pick up again.