RED DEER — The China syndrome has sent shudders throughout the world meat market.
Its relentless drive for more beef, pork, sheep meat and other proteins has buoyed prices and made it a desirable destination for ex-porters, said Richard Brown of Gira Consulting an international firm which analyzes the world meat trade.
“China is absolutely very important in the world meat market at the moment. The other Asian markets are growing with big volume in total,” Brown said at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference held Feb. 15-17 in Red Deer.
Pork is the world’s most popular meat because of the amount consumed in China, while beef is losing market share.
Brown said that is not a disaster because beef is higher priced and considered a special product.
“We should celebrate price increases that allow the industry to make money,” he said.
China wants other red meat as well.
“In late 2012-14, suddenly China emerged as a huge vacuum pulling in sheep meat from Australia and New Zealand,” Brown said.
“It led to a surge in price that was very helpful to every sheep farmer, wherever they were in the world.”
China took 30 percent of the world’s available sheep meat. High prices were not sustained, but it remains a good destination for Australia and New Zealand lamb and mutton.
The higher prices also encouraged more Chinese farmers to add goats and sheep to their farms so that fewer imports were needed.
World per capita meat consumption is rising in developing countries, but politics and fluctuating currencies can sometimes outweigh demand.
Russia was a massive meat market from 1995-2010, but that it is now declining because of political changes that banned imports and weakened the currency.
Australia, Brazil, the United States, Canada and India are the big exporters. There is potential in those countries for herd expansion and greater levels of productivity.
India is a significant exporter of water buffalo meat. It is the cheapest bovine meat in the world at $3,000 per tonne.
More than 700,000 tonnes of Indian buffalo meat went through northern Vietnam to China last year. It is also sold to the Middle East, North Africa and Indonesia.
The desire to consume more dairy products has seen a surge in the number of milk cows in India. Those cows will eventually find their way into the beef trade.
Australia has always been active in Asia. A new market for more than 300,000 cattle from the country’s Northern Territories recently emerged in Vietnam, where there is a growing demand for meat among its 90 million people.
It is feasible to ship livestock from Australia to Vietnam, where they go on a short-term feed program and are slaughtered.
Animal welfare groups are heavily critical of how the animals are shipped, so the Australians have to guarantee the care of those animals right through to slaughter.
Brazil is a major exporter, but its growth in beef and veal production is slow. It went up one percent last year and 1.9 percent is expected this year.
Its exports are not expected to grow because Brazilians are large consumers of their own beef.
Argentina may improve its trading position, but it is often held back by politics, including government restrictions of exports.
“This is a country that has squandered its extraordinary destiny in beef,” Brown said.
“It is nothing compared to what it was back in the 1990s.”
The United Kingdom’s plans to leave the European Union have created considerable uncertainty.
The U.K. imports 300,000 tonnes of beef a year. Ireland is the main supplier. It is an EU member and no one knows what the trade or tariffs might look like in two years.
“The U.K. has a culture of imported food and meat from all over the world for many years,” he said.
“This is an emerging and changing market, and one where our beef demand is high.”