EU, Canada, U.S. battle for China’s pork market

New trade patterns emerging as dynamics change.

Krissa Welshans 1, Feedstuffs Editor

July 25, 2017

3 Min Read
EU, Canada, U.S. battle for China’s pork market

Global pork trade is facing new dynamics, driven by price developments, new trade deals, political turmoil and more challenging business environments, according to RaboResearch’s latest “Global Pork Quarterly” report.

“While China’s pork imports have begun to slow down, other traditional importing countries have reported significant growth,” said Chenjun Pan, RaboResearch senior analyst – animal protein. “Looking to the second half of 2017, global pork supply is expected to increase further, and competition for global consumers will intensify.”

This potential softening bias on prices contrasts with the stability of the Rabobank Five-Nation Hog Price Index thus far in 2017.Rabobank_5-nation-pork-index_july2017.png

In the first five months of 2017, China’s pork imports were flat, which contrasts with the significant growth seen in the first half of 2016. Rabobank said the recovery of local production and strong international prices is believed to be responsible for slower imports.

“In China, pork prices have declined by 30%, from the record levels of last year. As a result, Chinese traders are taking a more cautious approach to imports in 2017,” the analysis noted.

Rabobank holds the view that China’s pork production will increase by about 2% in 2017. “Hog production recovery was faster than expected in (the first half), as many producers shared a positive view of the market and made rapid herd replenishments,” the report said.

While the hog production expansion should continue in the second half of 2017, Rabobank said it has been slowed by the price plunge during the second quarter.

“The emergence of these new trade dynamics will be the most important market development in the second half of this year,” according to Justin Sherrard, RaboResearch global strategist – animal protein.

During the third quarter, Rabobank reported that the European Union experienced slower exports due to strong prices.

“Tight supply and firm demand have maintained upward pressure on prices and starting to challenge exporters. In this context, the recently announced trade pact with Japan, offering tariff reductions, is good news for European exporters,” the report said.

In the U.S., pork exports still face uncertainty due to potential trade policy changes and a strong currency but have been better than expected thus far in 2017, Rabobank said.

“With weaker demand from China offset by stronger demand from Mexico, total exports are expected to increase by about 10%, compared with 2016. Increasing U.S. exports are becoming even more important as production continues to expand,” the report noted.

From a domestic standpoint, Rabobank said two new processing plants coming on line in the U.S. late this summer will change the shape of the U.S. pork industry expansion that has been occurring over the last few years. The plants will add 7% to U.S. packing capacity, according to the report, and couldn’t come at a better time.

“As hog numbers have climbed in recent years, plant capacity has struggled to keep up, leaving capacity in short supply come late (in the fourth quarter), when hog numbers are at their seasonal peak,” the report said.

The capacity expansion story doesn’t end in 2017, Rabobank pointed out, as one of the new plants will add a second shift in the summer of 2018, and another large plant will open in early 2019.

Rabobank stressed the need for the U.S. to expand pork exports, because the increased hog supplies will likely struggle to find a home in the domestic market. Currently, the U.S. pork industry exports about 23% of production.

In Brazil, the meat industry continues to face great challenges as a result of political turmoil. Exports in recent months have declined significantly. Pork exports alone have decline by approximately 4% year over year in the first five months of 2017, which opened the door for other countries. This happened particularly in the Chinese market, where pork imports from Brazil during this period declined 22%. The steep declines were offset, however, as Russia -- the largest destination for Brazil's pork exports -- increased imports by 10%, by volume.

Rabobank noted that even with these challenges, Brazil’s pork market is still expected to deliver a positive result due to the smaller supply, lower feed prices and a favorable exchange rate.

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