BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s pork imports in the first two months of 2020 surged 158% from a year earlier to 560,000 tonnes, customs data showed on Tuesday, as the world’s top consumer brought in large supplies ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in January.
The jump came even after the clearing of frozen goods at ports slowed sharply in February because of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 3,000 people in China and kept millions more at home in quarantine.
China is facing a severe shortage of pork after the fatal pig disease African swine fever devastated its hog herd, reducing its sow inventory by as much as 60% in 2019, according to some estimates.
Pork output fell 21% last year to a 16-year low, official data showed, and hogs last week cost six times those in the United States at about 37 yuan ($5.22) per kg.
Strong imports in the first two months of 2020 follows a monthly record of 270,000 tonnes in December. <CNC-PORK-IMP>
The surge exacerbated a shortage of space to plug in refrigerated containers at ports when staff failed to return from work to unload cargoes because of quarantine measures.
In mid-February, about 10,000 refrigerated cargo containers containing meat were stuck in Chinese ports, according to a Beijing-based meat importer, about twice the usual level.
Some of the imported meat is likely destined for state reserves which need to be topped up, as Beijing auctions off its stockpiles on an almost weekly basis to keep a lid on prices.
It has already sold 370,000 tonnes of pork since December from reserves and is expected to continue the sales.
Though China has unveiled a raft of measures to boost the recovery of its pig herd, analysts at Rabobank said pork output would still be down by between 15% and 20% this year.
Beijing recently urged farmers to go abroad to raise hogs in another measure aimed at helping to boost the gap.
Total imports in 2019 grew 75% from the prior year to 2.11 million tonnes, according to the General Administration of Customs.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)