China will import more than twice as much pork as last year, the commerce ministry said Thursday, after hog herds were devastated and prices of the staple meat soared following a major African swine fever outbreak.
Chinese authorities have scrambled to control prices — even going as far as tapping the country’s pork reserve — as the swine fever crisis could become a political and economic liability for the state.
To minimise pork price volatility, China will “encourage the increase of imports and continue to encourage the expansion of import enterprises,” said commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng.
The total amount of pork imports this year is estimated to exceed three million tonnes, he told reporters at a press briefing.
Last year, imports only reached about 1.2 million tonnes, according to China’s customs authority.
Since the beginning of November, an uptick in pork imports, live pigs, and frozen pork released into the market have helped push pork prices down 16.5 percent, Gao added.
More than a million pigs have been culled due to the widespread outbreaks since African swine fever appeared in August 2018, according to official statistics, but that is widely considered to be an underestimate.
This, in turn, has also pushed up prices of other meats including beef, chicken, duck and eggs as consumers switch to other protein sources.
To meet demand, Beijing has increased pork imports, with shipments from the European Union rising 37 percent between January and April, according to European Commission figures.
Brazil has also become a big source of imports.
Earlier this month, China also said it would resume beef and pork shipments from Canada after blocking them in June, as Beijing’s relations with Ottawa remain strained over a detained Huawei executive.
In addition to importing more pork, China plans to release more meat from its reserves to “ensure that demand is met” for upcoming Lunar New Year festivities in January, said Gao.