Livestock & Feed Bussiness Worldwide: December 2016
China ascendant, ASEAN rising: Asia's vast,two-track pork trade

by Eric J. BROOKS

Pork is both the world's most flexible meat and also its most ironic. Flexible because despite being a red meat, it can be produced and eaten in Asian countries that lack the resources to raise more feed-inefficient ruminants.

Ironic because despite centuries of religious restrictions, countless health warnings and decades of promoting poultry consumption, 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 a disposable income which, after purchasing power parity, amounted to less than 25% of American, the average Chinese eat just as much red meat last year as the Americans.

The only difference is that pork accounts for most of this Chinese red meat consumption.

Similarly, at purchasing power parity, Vietnamese incomes were only 9% that of Americans and 17% of Koreans in 2015. But the average Vietnamese eats as much pork as a Korean does and 26% more than the average American does.

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, an exporter 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 two 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 the Philippines today or Vietnam tomorrow, are becoming large pork importing customers. With its surprisingly large hunger for red meat, Asia's share of world pork imports rose from 52% in 2000 to 62% in 2016 - and looks set to rise even higher.

In the pages ahead, we examine what all this means in our survey of large Asian pork importers and pork-importers-in-waiting.

The full article is published on the December 2016 issue of LIVESTOCK & FEED Business. To read the full report, please email to to request for a complimentary copy of the magazine, indicating your name, mailing address and title of the report.
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