African Swine Fever Epidemic
A vendor prepares pork for sale at a market in Beijing, China (Photo: Reuters)

China suffered a series of outbreaks of the African swine fever since last year. The huge decline in demand for pork in the country sent shock waves through Asia's market for imported meat.

The African swine fever is highly contagious and deadly to swine but it has no effect on human health. There was no report of a cure for the virus that causes the disease. The latest record of the outbreak is in August 2018. The fever spread to 30 provinces in China during the outbreak. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs revealed in January that they culled 900, 000 pigs since the first report of the virus.

According to the estimates of the Dutch Bank Rabobank, China's hog herd drops 30 percent to40 percent this year compared to the production in 2018. Chenjun Pan, the senior analyst for animal protein at Rabobank, said that the pork meat production decline is expected to be between 9 million and 15 million tons, depending on the disease's development in the next few months. The analyst added that it's not very likely that the rest of the world will be able to fill the supply gap in China, given the sheer size of China's pork production.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported that the swineherd in China numbered 440 million heads in 2018 which is 60 percent of the world's total. The production of pork in China is around 54 million tons annually where most of the products are domestically consumed.

The prolonged epidemic risks the self-sufficiency of China's pork industry. China turned to the European Union in support of its pork industry. The block is the world's top exporter and the second-largest producer of the product. Denmark, Spain, and Germany also play a significant role in the export of industry of pork.

A Japanese trader commented that abundant supplies have kept pork prices stable, but recently they cannot purchase unless they offer higher prices. Japanese traders said that they get fewer offers from the European Union as Chinese importers started their large purchases.

The agriculture ministry of France said that the spread of African swine fever in China could once again increase European exports to Asia. The pork import of France increased to 51 percent on the year in January. Naohiro Nimura, a Japanese commodities expert at Market Risk Advisory based in Tokyo said that China will be forced to purchase more pork from the U.S. sooner or later, as it faces a serious pork shortage.