January 27, 2011


South Korea's 2011 pork imports may rise up to 30% on-year



South Korea's pork imports could surge as much as 30% this year after a quarter of the nation's pig count was killed to control FMD outbreaks, an industry body said Wednesday (Jan 26).


The imports, which last year stood at 290,000 tonnes, could accelerate after Asia's No.4 economy said no tariff would be levied on up to 60,000 tonnes of frozen pork set to be imported through June to fill a gap from lost local supply.


CME lean hog futures rose to their highest in more than five months on Tuesday (Jan 25), fuelled by talk on the trading floor that South Korea had bought more pork in recent days.


"While South Korea imports pork for grilling and food-processing, local food processors cannot help replacing domestic pork with imports because of wide-spread culling," said Choi Jong-sun, chairman of the Korea Meat Import Association, referring to action to rein in the disease outbreaks.


Besides foot-and-mouth, South Korea has confirmed 38 cases of bird flu since detecting the first case last month, leading to a cull of more than five million poultry. No human cases of bird flu have been reported.


Nationwide outbreaks of foot-and-mouth forced all livestock markets to close for almost two months. Only a small volume of meat has been traded online or by telephone.


The massive slaughter and market closure has pushed consumer pork prices in South Korea to their highest on Wednesday (Jan 26) since at least 2005.


Yet extending low import tariffs on pork may be tough as swine farmers immediately opposed the government's move, saying the move threatened to destroy the domestic swine industry.


Domestic pork prices would soon fall if 3.4 million hogs, or 30% of the domestic population, were allowed to be transferred for sale, the Korea Swine Association said Wednesday (Jan 26).


Those animals were barred from being transferred and some slaughter houses temporarily shut to halt the spread of FMD.


"Pork imports will take one or two months after being ordered, and by that time supplies of home-bred pork will rise sharply as vaccinations are completed. While domestic pork prices will be corrected with the release of home-bred meat, the government is destroying the local swine industry by lowering import tariffs and saying the move was to control inflation," the Association said.


"Foot-and-mouth is unlikely to boost beef imports as the number of slaughtered cattle has been much smaller than hogs. Importers are also having difficulties shipping in beef due to strengthening meat prices," added Choi.


The most recent weekly US export sales data showed South Korea bought 9,600 tonnes of US beef, its biggest weekly purchase since June 2003, which was six months prior to the first reported case of mad cow disease in the US.


The beef purchase was more than 500% larger than South Korea's purchase in the corresponding week last year.

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