China Ramps Up Imports of US Pork as African Swine Fever Spreads

Demand for untainted meat is trumping Beijing’s tariffs
December 2, 2018 Updated: December 2, 2018

Last week, China imported 3,348 metric tons of pork from the United States and ordered another 9,384 metric tons—the largest amount since Communist Party authorities boosted tariffs on U.S. pork in April.

China has been plagued by an epidemic of African swine fever, with the disease affecting pigs in many provinces, including the provincial-level municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Nov. 29 that China ordered 12,732 tonnes of pork in the week ended Nov. 22, 3,348 tonnes of which will be shipped this year, and the rest delivered in 2019. It’s China’s largest order of U.S. pork since February, before the start of the Sino-U.S. trade war.

In 2017, China was the second-largest buyer of U.S. pork. Total purchases amounted to 495,637 metric tons, valued at $1.08 billion, according to a report by Pig Progress.

On April 2, Chinese authorities increased tariffs on U.S. pork to 37 percent from 12 percent, slashing large procurements. In July, China further increased tariffs to 62 percent, which is 50 percent higher than the 12 percent levied by other countries.

However, African swine fever is forcing Chinese importers to buy American, despite high tariffs.

“It’s kind of like, why do you buy from your enemy? Because you have to,” Don Roose, president of Iowa-based broker U.S. Commodities, told Reuters.

“This is a game changer,” Dennis Smith, a senior account executive at Archer Financial Services Inc., told Bloomberg. “It gives confirmation that the disease is far worse than what we’ve been told.”

On Nov. 29, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced an outbreak of African swine fever on a pig farm in Tianjin. Of the farm’s 361 pigs, 67 died.

African swine fever is presently not known to affect humans. According to officials, Chinese outbreaks began in Shenyang, a city in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province, and have since spread to most of the country. Farmers in the northern provinces of Hebei and Shandong say the disease has affected their areas as well, but that hasn’t been officially confirmed.

More than 600,000 pigs have been euthanized and discarded in past months to help prevent the disease from spreading.

Regions least affected are the northwestern and southwestern parts of China.

Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency (CNA) reported in August that Chinese importers found an alternative to U.S. pork by purchasing 240,000 metric tons of Siberian pork from Russia. There was a Siberian outbreak of African swine fever in 2017, which prompted many countries to ban imports of Russian pork. According to CNA, Russian pork is the likely source of China’s swine fever crisis.

One reason that Chinese importers are shrugging off tariffs to buy U.S. pork at this time seems to be as preparation for higher consumption of pork sausages and smoked pork during the Chinese New Year holidays in February.