USA, Washington. China is not only the world's largest importer of pork, but it also tops the global rankings for beef imports since the outbreak of African swine fever (ASF).
From 2017 to 2020, international beef purchases tripled to nearly 2.8 mill. t; that's also about twice as much as the United States imports as the runner-up in the beef importer rankings. In a recent forecast, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) agricultural attaché Adam Branson projects that China's beef imports will continue to rise in 2021, increasing by about 320,000 t, or just over 11%, to a record 3.1 mill. t.
The reason he gives is that demand is expected to grow faster than domestic production and, in addition, imported meat is cheaper. The US expert expects beef production in China to increase 4.2% over 2020 to 7 mill. t. With rising prices and good sales opportunities, producers were seeking to increase their herds, with large dairy producers also investing in additional production of male beef cattle in integrated systems.
China's total cattle herd stood at 95.62 million head at the beginning of 2021, up 4.24 million, or 4.6%, from 12 months earlier, according to the US Embassy in Beijing. However, it should be noted that some suppliers had held back animals in 2020 so they could not be slaughtered until 2021. There was a 2.2% increase in the dairy cow herd to 13.9 million head.
US analysts estimate consumption growth this year at nearly 600,000 t, or 6.3%, which would mean consumption of 10.08 mill. t. The resurgence of out-of-home consumption of beef, according to Corona, the availability of low-priced imported meat and high pork prices would drive beef consumption higher, experts said. They said this is also helped by the fact that more and more younger Chinese are preparing beef at home or using supplier platforms on the Internet.
The higher import demand will provide good sales opportunities for traditional beef suppliers in China, the USDA concluded. The South American product would then be mostly processed in the country, while the US, Australia and New Zealand would cater more to the high-price segment for restaurants and food retailers.