UTRECHT‎, NETHERLANDS – While the one-two punch of African swine fever (ASF) in China and Europe and the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic boosted domestic and export demand for US pork in 2020, signs of economic recovery in many countries combined with the rebuilding of the domestic hog herd in China has analysts considering how the recovery might impact pork trade around the world.

Rising feed costs for pork producers in the United States have been tempered by strong demand for pork domestically and among trading partners, serving to positively impact hog prices, according to Rabobank’s first quarterly report on the pork sector for the year, “Looking for Growth Amid Uncertainties.” One of those uncertainties is how the Biden administration’s agricultural and immigration policies will affect the US pork industry in the future.

After what Rabobank refers to as China’s rapid restocking in pork production last year, the country’s imports will likely decrease from the record-highs of 2020, reshaping the dynamics of global pork trade in the coming year. The spread of ASF is expected to continue but without the devastation of recent years, due mostly to improved biosecurity practices. However, China and Vietnam, which were Asia’s hardest hit countries by ASF in 2020 also are fighting to keep other animal diseases at bay, including foot-and-mouth disease and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv). Animal diseases have slowed the country’s restocking pace, but Rabobank said the recovery will pick up considerably in 2021 as large-scale producers have learned to control outbreaks and minimize the need for culling large herds.  

Domestic demand for pork in Europe is lagging as the effect of COVID-19 and ASF in Germany and Eastern Europe linger, which will likely keep production moderated compared to the incremental growth seen in 2020. Absent new export markets for Germany’s pork exports, Spain and Denmark look to be beneficiaries of its absence in Asia, according to Rabobank. ASF outbreaks in Germany continue among wild boars and especially in Brandenburg and Saxony. Analysts don’t see ASF as an imminent threat to commercial hog farms where biosecurity is a top priority. The disease remains a substantial threat in western Poland, according to Rabobank, with nearly 3,000 cases among wild boars in November and December of 2020.

Brazil saw a spike in pork exports in 2020, topping 1 million tonnes and exceeding the 2019 exports by 36%. The sharp increase in feed that resulted in soaring domestic prices are forecast to continue into 2021 while local hog production will likely increase by 2.5% as export and domestic demand continue to recover.  

In its report, Rabobank also highlighted four issues that are expected to impact the global pork industry:

  • Working from home is a new reality that is here to stay;
  • Demand for non-traditional foodservice outlets will continue;
  • Pandemic-induced distrust among consumers will take some time;
  • Foodservice recovery will not return to pre-pandemic conditions until 2022 or 2023.