China’s export slowdown may hit world markets

OTTAWA — Canada is the third largest pork exporter in the world, so it may surprise people that almost one-third of Canadian consumption is imported.

“In 2012 imports reached a record high where 31 percent of the pork consumed in this country came from somewhere else,” said Michael Young of Canada Pork at the annual Canadian Meat Council meeting held in Ottawa June 6-7.

Canada exports 64 percent of its production and sends pork to about 100 countries.

Meat packing companies and associations in the Canadian pork industry have built a plan to promote the homegrown product. With a small budget of $500,000, a verified Canadian pork program has been developed for domestic and international promotion.

Thirteen meat packers and eight pork associations fund the program. The registered trademark maple leaf logo is available for packaging. It carries a guarantee that the pork comes from a verified program that promises no added hormones, on-farm food safety, animal welfare, a quality assurance system and mandatory traceability.

The program has reached out to primary processors, further processing, retail, restaurants and export products.

It was rolled out a year ago in Japan, which led Costco Wholesale Japan to switch to 100 percent Canadian pork in all its sites.

Canada is a major pork presence in Japan and China, said market analyst Brett Stuart of Global AgriTrends. Japan accepts large amounts of chilled pork from Canada and has proven to be a stable market in which buyers make purchases every month.

“Over the last five or six years, Canada has taken 15 percent of the chilled market away from the U.S.,” he told the meat council.

Stuart pointed to several factors that may be coming.

Sales to China, a major meat importer, could slow. The Chinese government raised corn subsidies and many hog farmers there went out of business.

In 2016, the Chinese government realized the country was short on pork so it let corn prices fall by half and hog farmers made incredible profits of about $100 per head.

Recently, those profits have dropped to about $30 a head but that remains enough to continue expansion. That means China’s pork imports could fall as the country produces more of its own.

“When the Chinese government does not want pork, they have ways to manage trade and that is a big concern right now,” he said.

In Europe, farmers lost the Russian market and had an extra 600,000 tonnes to sell, which ended up in Asia.

“A slowdown in China displaces a whole lot of pork and it displaces a lot of (European Union) pork,” Stuart said.

If the EU cannot sell as much pork to China, it needs to find other outlets. Demand from China was down 17 percent, so EU pork could end up in Japan, Philippines, United States and Australia.

“Those are all (Canadian) markets and those are the risks we take when pork is displaced,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has also been producing more pork, and Stuart questioned where it will all go.

“For every barn you build, you better have an export market for (it) because Americans will only eat a certain level of pork.”

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