BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s pork imports will reach record levels of as much as 4.6 million tonnes next year, Dutch financial services firm Rabobank said on Friday, as domestic output falls to a historical low following a devastating disease outbreak.
China’s pork imports are already set to surpass previous records this year, reaching between 3.1 million and 3.3 million tonnes including offal, the bank said in a report, up from 2.1 million tonnes last year.
It comes after African swine fever, a fatal pig disease, spread through the world’s largest hog herd, killing millions and discouraging many farmers from replenishing their farms.
Though soaring hog prices recently have spurred large producers to begin restocking empty farms and speed up plans for new ones, the sow herd will begin recovering only next year, with pork supply picking up again from 2021, Rabobank said.
“We expect to see record-high imports in 2020, with record-low production,” the report said.
China’s pork production is expected to shrink by a quarter this year versus 2018 to about 40.5 million tonnes, and by another 10 to 15% in 2020, the bank said.
Poultry production meanwhile has jumped by around 10% this year, and will grow faster next year.
Rabobank estimated pork meat imports of between 2.3 million and 2.6 million tonnes next year, or a quarter of global trade, with offal imports of between 1.5 million and 2 million tonnes.
The forecast is in line with other estimates.
Though imports will decline when domestic production recovers beyond 2020, the average level of imports between 2021 and 2025 will stay high, at around 3 million tonnes including offal, as high biosecurity costs on farms in China keep pork prices elevated.
In line with the views of another consultancy, Gira, the bank does not expect China’s pork production to fully recover, with part of its market share permanently lost to other proteins such as poultry and beef.
“We expect pork production to reach a balance around 47 million and 49 million metric tonnes,” said the report.
The farming structure will also change, with half of all small farms likely to exit the business, it added.
Small farms will account for only 30% of production by 2025, with large farms that produce more than 10,000 hogs a year growing rapidly to make up more than a third of output.
Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Dale Hudson