The world’s most populous country already is the largest meat importing nation and “looks like it’s poised to play a major role in meat markets in the future,” said USDA senior economist Fred Gale on Thursday. China’s imports of beef, pork and poultry are projected by USDA to grow by 29% in the coming decade.
“Our projections show that China will continue to grow those meat imports up to more than 10 million metric tons by the end of the projection period (2030),” said Gale during a panel discussion at USDA”s Agricultural Outlook Forum of the trade landscape in China, the world’s largest agricultural importer. “This is something that’s caught us all off-guard.”
Meat imports by China totaled 8.5 million tonnes, including 4.8 million tonnes of pork, in 2020, according to USDA. The total would dip to 8.3 million tonnes, with pork dropping to 4.5 million tonnes, this year for a one-year wobble in an otherwise steady increase over the years.
Chinese meat production reached a plateau in 2014 of around 88 million tonnes. It fell due to a deadly swine epidemic in 2020. China says it is rebuilding its hog herd and expects its domestic prok supply to rebound this year. But Gale said China “may be approaching or surpassing its carrying capacity for animal protein production,” which would make imports a crucial question since China prefers to be as self-sufficient as possible in food.
“This year, they’re already well below those (self sufficiency in meat) targets…Will China restrict meat imports when Chinese pork prices eventually fall towards normal prices?”
The Biden administration is reviewing U.S. relations, including the so-called phase one trade agreement, with China at present. “As we go further into 2021, there’s a good chance we’ll start to see some negotiation between the United States and China,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution.
“Early in 2022,” responded Dollar to a question of when to expect a phase two agreement, which would tackle Chinese trade practices that the United States views as predatory and unfair. USDA trade counsel Jason Hafemeister said he believed there would be a phase two deal but “don’t ask me when. Asked for a thumbs up or thumbs down on prospects for phase two, Gale responded, “I’m going to go sideways.”