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China's pork imports triple in March while new swine fever cases continue to emerge

China's pork imports almost tripled in March from last year, customs data showed on Tuesday (14 April), soaring to a record monthly volume as buyers sought to plug the huge supply gap left by African swine fever.

14 April 2020, at 10:40am

China, the world's biggest consumer of pork, brought in 391,000 tonnes last month, up from 127,218 tonnes in March 2019, according to Reuters calculations based on data from General Administration of Customs.

Shipments of pork in the first quarter came to 951,000 tonnes, nearly double the same period last year, the customs data showed.

The deadly African swine fever (ASF) disease reduced China's pig herd by at least 40 percent in 2019, slashing pork output and sending prices of the country's favourite meat to record highs. China confirmed two new cases of the virus in the northern provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi, the country's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in a statement on Sunday (12 April) night. The Gansu case was detected in two trucks transporting 320 piglets to Minqin county, with three piglets dead. The Shaanxi outbreak occurred in a small farm with 49 hogs that had bought piglets from another province. There were 39 pigs killed in the outbreak.

The agriculture ministry said that it has sent inspectors to carry out special checks on ASF in Gansu and Shaanxi.

An extended Lunar New Year holiday in February, implemented to help China tackle the current coronavirus epidemic, also led to a backlog clearing refrigerated containers at China's ports that month, boosting the shipments handled in March. China has already released 270,000 tonnes of pork from its reserves this year, amid a severe shortage of the meat.

China said last month imports in the first two months of 2020 came to 560,000 tonnes, up 158 percent from a year earlier.

The data showed that in the first quarter China bought $5.05 billion of farm goods from United States, up 110 percent from last year. This included 168,000 tonnes of US pork, a more than seven-fold increase.