Market signals suggest pigmeat exports to China and the USA may be about to pick up, providing a boost in demand for a generally quiet trade, according to the AHDB.
Senior analyst Duncan Wyatt said UK trade in pigmeat fell again in September, as both exports and imports declined compared with a year ago.
Year-to-date figures supplied by HMRC show pigmeat imports were 4% lower than in the same period in 2017, while exports are on a par with year-earlier levels, Mr Wyatt said.
While Ireland and Spain bucked the trend and sent more pork to the UK during the month, shipments from the Netherlands fell by 800t (17%) and those from Denmark dropped by 600t (5%).
The fall-off in imports has led to substitution with home-produced pigmeat, but prices in the rest of the EU have fallen faster than in the UK.
This may once again stimulate imports in the later months of the year, and so put further pressure on domestic prices.
The value of pork exports fell by 5% to £209m in the year to September, driven by a challenging global market – but this could be about to change.
Signs of some stronger growth in exports to other destinations, such as China, have started to emerge.
This may be as a result of African Swine Fever in China, which has seen 74 outbreaks across 19 provinces and 140,000 pigs culled.
The trade war between the USA and China meant the additional demand was not fulfilled by supplies of US pigmeat.
This may explain why UK exports to China were up by almost a quarter to 700t in September.
Heavy losses at Tulip
Meanwhile, the National Pig Association has reported that UK pork processor Tulip has recorded further heavy losses in 2017/18.
The poor performance has been blamed for “dragging down” parent company Danish Crown’s results, prompting a continuing cost-cutting exercise here in the UK.
More than 150 jobs have been lost at the company over the past few months, and further cuts to remove more than £20m in costs will be implemented over the next year or so, the NPA said.
Although Tulip returned a profit on ordinary operations for the first quarter of the fiscal year, a net operating loss of kr260m (£31m) has been posted for the year.
Danish Crown chief executive Jais Valeur said that Tulip had suffered from operating costs that were “far too high”.