For more than a decade the growing middle class wealth in China has been touted as a key driver of meat protein demand. However, in recent years the disruption to China’s pig herd, due to the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF), has supercharged their appetite for beef, chicken, pork and sheep meat imports.
A good measure that highlights the growth in Chinese demand is the proportion of meat imports relative to their domestic consumption of each meat protein.
The lift in beef imports into China began to rise in the early 2010s, jumping from 1.5% of domestic consumption in 2012 to 5.8% in 2013. Prior to the outbreak of ASF it was sitting around 17.5%, with the outbreak of ASF seeing a surge towards 30%.
The larger lift in pork and chicken imports as a proportion of domestic consumption materialised post ASF. In 2018 chicken imports as a percentage of domestic consumption was sitting at 2.9% and pork imports were at 2.6%. By 2020 these had surged to 6.6% for chicken and 12.7% for pork. Given China’s huge appetite for pork, which over the last decade has been three times the size of their chicken consumption and nearly six times the size of their beef consumption, it is no mean feat to see the proportion of pork imports rise so much.
Sheep meat imports tell a similar story to beef, in that the increase in import flows into China as a proportion of domestic consumption began to lift pre-ASF. Despite hearing from another analysis firm recently that these proportional sheep imports into China were inconsequential, the data proves otherwise. Granted there is only data available for sheep meat up until 2019, but the trend is pretty clear.
Sheep meat imports into China began to rise before beef, back in 2010. Lifting quickly from 2.7% in 2010 to 11.5% in 2014. After a short lull during 2015 to 2018 sheep meat imports as a proportion of consumption began to rise again after the outbreak of ASF to see it at 13.7% of domestic consumption by 2019. Given that China has the largest sheep flock in the world and annual sheep meat consumption levels that are larger than Australia’s entire annual beef production these are significant import volumes, nearing 400,000 tonnes.