A customer buying pork at a market in Hefei, Anhui province, China© View China Photo/Rex Shutterstock

Britain has become the sixth biggest pork exporter to China, as the Asian giant looks abroad to help plug its growing meat deficit.

China is expected to face a 10m tonnes a year meat shortfall by 2020, as demand continues to outpace production and rural dwellers stop farming and move to the cities.

The British pig industry – the only UK meat sector with access to the Chinese market – exported about 42,000t to China last year, a growth of 443% since it sent its first shipment of 7,700t in 2011.

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This made China the UK’s biggest pigmeat export market, ahead of Germany, which imported 31,000t of British pork last year.

The Chinese market was also highly valuable because it took offal and other hard-to-sell parts, adding about £20 to every pig carcass, said AHDB Pork, with British trotters due to gain access to China in the next few days.

Mick Sloyan, director of the levy board division, said there were “fantastic opportunities” for British pork in the Chinese market.

As the premium end of the market developed, even if that only meant 2% of the population, it would still represent a market of 26 million people that British pork could have a chance with. 

Positive outlook

Continued growth in British pork exports to the Chinese market looked positive, as the AHDB export teams met with a Chinese delegation at the world’s biggest food fair exhibition, Anuga, in Germany.

About 200 countries were exhibiting their food products, but the Chinese meat import delegation chose to have a one-hour lunch meeting with the English levy board, followed by a dinner organised by British levy boards featuring British pork, lamb and beef.

The 15-strong Chinese delegation was led by Li ShuiLong of the China Meat Association.

He said Chinese consumers still made little distinction between where their meat came from, with the main focus being price.

However, safety was a big concern and the Chinese government had just passed a new food safety law to protect the consumer.

Mr Sloyan, who was at the forefront of opening up the Chinese market to British pork, said the meeting had gone well.

Access for British pork was first granted in 2011, but took several years of co-ordinated work from AHDB’s export team, Defra and pig processors to achieve.

Lamb and beef opportunities round the corner

British beef and sheep meat does not yet have access to the Chinese market, due to regulatory and administrative issues relating to BSE.

But AHDB Beef and Lamb is looking to change this and a positive sign was the attendance of Grand Farms Meat Co – the world’s biggest sheepmeat importer – in the Chinese delegation.

Nick Allen, head of market development at AHDB, said he expected it to take at least another three years before British beef and lamb could gain access to China, but it was a matter of building trust and relationships.

An agricultural attaché is now employed in China to help develop and maintain these relationships – mainly funded by AHDB, with some funding from Defra.