UPDATE 3-China 2020 meat imports close to 10 mln tonnes, up 60% on year

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BEIJING, Jan 14 (Reuters) - China imported 9.91 million tonnes of meat in 2020, customs data showed on Thursday, as the world’s biggest consumer of meat stocked up on proteins after a further plunge in its pork output.

Shipments were up 60.4% on the year before and came after China’s output of pork, its staple meat, slumped 19% in the first half. That followed an even bigger drop during 2019 when the fatal pig disease African swine fever ravaged its vast hog herd.

China’s General Administration of Customs only began releasing monthly data for all meats combined last year but the 2020 total is believed by industry analysts to be a record.

“It’s definitely a record. All the species hit records last year,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.

Imports of pork from the United States, China’s largest supplier, rose 223.8% in yuan terms in 2020, customs spokesman Liu Kuiwen told reporters at a briefing.

Testing of imported chilled foods for the novel coronavirus during the second half of 2020 slowed imports but arrivals still kept up a healthy pace.

December imports jumped 24% from the 775,000 tonnes brought in the prior month to 964,000 tonnes, close to the monthly record hit in July 2020, as buyers stocked up for the peak consumption season during the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Domestic pork prices PORK-CN-TOT-D slumped during October but began rising strongly again at the end of November on growing demand, making cheaper imported meat more attractive.

But aggressive restocking of China’s pig farms last year will lead to pork production growth of about 10% in 2021, according to a Rabobank forecast, pushing imports of the meat down by as much as 30% year on year.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; editing by Richard Pullin