DENVER – In 2008, imports of pork and pork products to China represented the highest volume to any single country, according to U.S. Meat Export Federation. China's overseas purchases and imports of pork and pork products in calendar year 2008 were unprecedented, according to U.S. Meat Export Federation calculations from just-released Chinese trade data. Based on import totals from both China and Hong Kong, China imported 1.925 million metric tons (4.2 billion lbs.) of pork and pork products last year, including 1.161 million tons (nearly 2.6 billion lbs.) of pork variety meats and 764,000 tons (1.7 billion lbs.) of pork cuts. China's imports exceeded the previous single-year record of 1.022 million tons (2.2 billion lbs.) of pork imported by Japan in 2005.

"The volume demonstrates the huge influence China can have on global markets when supply and demand become imbalanced," said Joel Haggard, senior vice president of U.S.M.E.F.'s Asia Pacific region. "The import volume, though huge, represents less than 5% of China’s consumption."

Total U.S. pork and pork product exports to China and Hong Kong are estimated by U.S.M.E.F. to have reached 386,000 tons (851 million lbs.) valued at nearly $700 million in 2008. The E.U. and Brazil were the other major pork suppliers to the region.

It is unlikely that China's pork imports this year will match last year's record, Mr. Haggard said. Increased industry profitability last spring, coupled with a range of hog raising subsidies, has resulted in a substantial expansion of China's herd, and lower hog and pork prices.

Although the post lunar new year early spring period usually marks the annual low point in demand, U.S.M.E.F. has heard reports of serious respiratory disease outbreaks that could be adding a bearish tone to the market. It expects imported variety meat demand to hold through 2009, although U.S. muscle cuts face stiffer competition from domestic supplies.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission, in concert with key ministries including the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Agriculture, AQSIQ and the Ministry of Finance, announced Jan. 12 a new temporary pork price stabilization program designed to smooth out the country's volatile hog cycle. The program establishes an early-warning system for low live-hog and pork prices based upon the ratio of live hog to grain prices.

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