CHINA – A comprehensive study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) has highlighted the extensive impact of African swine fever (ASF) on China’s pork production, estimating a staggering loss of 27.9 million metric tons during a 30-month cycle of decline and recovery.

The study analyzed the period from the third quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2021, during which China grappled with the consequences of ASF. 

The country witnessed a significant contraction in its swine herd during the first three quarters of 2019, reaching its lowest point at 307 million. 

Subsequent recovery was gradual, with the swine inventory marginally increasing to 310 million by the fourth quarter of 2019 and further growing to 416 million by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Despite setting records for pork imports during this period, China was able to replace only one-fifth of its lost production through imports. 

The study sheds light on the challenges the country faced in compensating for the massive shortfall in pork supplies, leading to shortages that persisted for approximately 18 months.

Lag in pork price increases

ASF’s impact on pork prices in China was characterized by a lag, with prices more than doubling approximately one year after the initial outbreaks. 

Prices remained elevated for 14 months before experiencing a rapid decline in 2021, returning to near-pre-ASF levels about 38 months after the first outbreaks.

Global pork exports surge to fill supply gap

During 2019-20, global pork exports to China surged, accounting for 45% of world pork imports in 2020. 

The European Union (EU) emerged as the leading exporter to China, contributing 58%, while the United States played a significant role as the second-leading pork exporter, capturing a 15% share.

China’s swine herd has exhibited signs of rebounding, with official data indicating a return to close to its pre-ASF size. 

The recovery, however, was a gradual process, highlighting the long-lasting impacts of ASF on the country’s pork industry.

Study methodology and data sources

The study utilized a multi-faceted approach, analyzing officially reported ASF outbreaks in China using data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the United Nations’ World Organization for Animal Health. 

The authors incorporated national supply statistics, price data, official announcements, scientific articles, and private industry reports to provide a comprehensive assessment of the economic impacts of ASF on China’s pork production. 

Additionally, the study gauged the effects on pork-exporting countries using Chinese customs data.

This USDA study provides crucial insights into the prolonged repercussions of ASF on China’s pork industry, offering valuable data for stakeholders and policymakers in understanding the challenges and dynamics of the recovery process.

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