November 28, 2016

China ascendant, ASEAN rising: Asia's vast, two-track pork trade
How the Far East transformed import markets and made pork the world's most popular meat

An eFeedLink Hot Topic
  • The world pork market has gone from being dominated by Japanese buyers to one where China dominates
  • Along with China, South Korea, Philippines and Mexico have become major pork importers over the last 15 years
  • Going forward, Vietnam will become the world's fastest growing pork import market
  • Already having gone from 52% of world pork imports in 2000 to 62% in 2016, Asia's share of world pork imports is destined to grow even larger over the next decade
Pork is both the world's most flexible meat and also its most ironic. Flexible because despite being a a red meat, pigs can be grown and eaten in Asian countries that lack the resources to raise more feed ineffient ruminants.
Ironic because despite centuries of religious restrictions, countless health warnings and decades of promoting poultry consumption non-stop, pork –not chicken– remains the world's most popular meat.
According to the USDA, in 2017, world pork consumption will jump 2.5% to 110.7 million tonnes, from 108 million the previous year. By comparison, chicken meat consumption is rising a mere 0.9% to 88.4 million tonnes, from the previous year's 87.6 million.
Fifteen years ago, policymakers expected chicken to have overtaken pork consumption by this time but thanks to red meat hungry consumers in nations like China and Vietnam, swine meat remains the world's most popular –and it did so in a manner that upset many longstanding theories about economic development and meat consumption.
Vietnam and China did away with the idea that you need to be wealthy to eat red meat. From 3kg in 1960, China's per capita pork consumption rose to just under 40kg by 2015. Despite having disposable incomes which (after purchasing power parity) amounted to less than 25%of American, 2015 saw the average Chinese eat just as much red meat as Americans, the difference being that most Chinese red meat consumption is accounted for by pork. Similarly, at purchasing power parity, Vietnamese incomes were only 9% of what Americans make and 17% of Koreans make –but the average Vietnamese eats as much pork as Koreans do and 26% more than Americans do.
The way developing Asian nations have overtaken wealthy ones not just in per capita pork consumption but pork imports is one of the least appreciated agribusiness trends of our time. Back in 2000, Japan and South Korea accounted for 38% of world pork imports and still made up 36% of the total as recently as 2005.
By 2010, despite aggressive growth in South Korean import volumes, they accounted for 28% of the world pork market. This year and again in 2017, their share will have shrunk to 23%. On the other hand, the Greater China region (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan) went from 11% of world pork imports in 2000 to 36% in 2016.
Clearly, Asia has become a two-track pork market, where stable demand from Japan, South Korea and Singapore is now being complimented by aggressive import growth in the continent's faster growing economies.
Thus China, which was an exporter even ten years ago, now single-handily accounts for 25% to 29% of world pork imports in any given year. From under 100,000 tonnes ten years ago, China's pork imports now total above 2 million tonnes and look poised to stay at that high level.
Moreover, while China is leading the way, other Asian nations, be they Singapore and Philippines today or Vietnam tomorrow, are becoming large pork importing customers. The Philippines for example, saw its pork imports rise 686% in sixteen years, from 28,000 tonnes in 2000 to 220,000 tonnes in 2016.
Containing nearly 100 million people, with per capita consumption at nearly 30kg and growing but with only a tiny fraction of China's arable land, Vietnam will become the world's fastest growing pork import market over the next ten years.
Hence, led by developing Asia's surprisingly large hunger for red meat, its share of world pork imports rose from 52% in 2000 to 62% in 2016; and looks set to rise even higher.
In fact, outside Asia, only Mexico, the the third largest importer (after China and Japan) has a market with growth dynamics that resemble that of Far East. But with China, Vietnam, Philippines and South Korea all matching or exceeding Mexico's pork consumption growth, the world swine trade will increasingly be centred on Asia's eastern and south eastern coast.

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