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UK pork sector urged to explore new export opportunities amid global market disruption

9th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

A complex mix of COVID-19, African swine fever (ASF) and political tensions is creating an uncertain global outlook for the pig sector. 

China Shipping LineThe lucrative Chinese market is currently helping to deliver a 'soft landing' for the UK pork sector amid the global disruption to trade caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the UK should continue to pursure numerous other export opportunities across Asia, notably in Vietnam, according to Rupert Claxton, meat director at global consultants GIRA.

During an AHDB export webinar, he explained how China's logistical issues caused by the COVID-19 outbreak are now largely resolved and, with China remaining ‘very short’ of pork, it continues to be the major market’ for pork exporters, Mr Claxton said.

But he stressed that ‘massive investment’ investment is currently going into rebuilding the Chinese pork sector after ASF, with news coming through recently of a pig farming company constructing a 5 million head a year slaughter plant, with another five planned

Pork exports to China initially exceeded forecasts during the COVID-19 pandemic as the loss of foodservice markets has increased availability among major exporters.

AHDB China meat imports

This was particularly true of the US, but the crisis in the US pork sector in recent weeks, with an estimated 44% of capacity was lost at the peak due to plant closures, has resulted in a tightening of supply again, he added.

But with the US pork sector now largely up and running again, Gira expects the US to ‘come back with more volume’ over the second half of the year, to again intensify competition in the Chinese marketplace and pressurise export prices.

However, Mr Claxton stressed that one caveat to this could be the deteriorating relationship between the Trump administration and China over COVID-19. But he warned that the same could apply also to the UK, given the current tensions between the respective Governments over Hong Kong.

Given all the global uncertainty, Mr Claxton stressed the importance of pursuing new export opportunities, particularly in Asia, highlighting the potential of Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines in particular.

In Vietnam, pork production has fallen by almost 17% as a result of ASF, with expectations of a further drop to around 52% by the end of this year.

AHDB export Vietnam

“We predict it could take a decade for the country’s pork sector to recover,” Mr Claxton said. “Therefore, there is a real opportunity to potentially increase volumes over the next five to ten years.”

AHDB’s Head of Asia Pacific Jonathan Eckley highlighted the ongoing work of AHDB’s export team in these key markets. “While inward and outward missions have been cancelled due to coronavirus, the work of AHDB’s export team continues and we are working collaboratively with agencies and partners in a number of markets to fly the flag for the UK’s red meat sector,” he said.