China has a zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine residues in meat, which prevents some U.S. pork and beef products from being sold there. Larger U.S. pork companies have announced that they are phasing out the use of the additive, but as part of the Phase One trade deal with the U.S., China committed to conducting a risk assessment on ractopamine use in pork production.
U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary Ted McKinney recently provided a status update, saying China has been moving forward on this commitment.
“They are dutifully going through the process,” he said. “We have provided information in a very timely manner when it has been asked of us, as has the provider of the information. I think it’s largely Elanco, even though I think the product is generically produced these days.”
As to whether China will actually change its policy on ractopamine, McKinney said, “We’ll see where it goes, but they are certainly following all of the steps in the timeline that they said they would.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. is very pleased with China’s efforts to meet its Phase One trade commitments, McKinney said, noting, “Things have been going relatively well in China, and we’re very grateful that they are stepping up to honor as much as they can of the Phase One agreement.”
He added, “Pork, in this case, is a big part of that.”
USDA’s Gary Crawford noted that sales of pork to China up 327% compared to last year — and “that is with the current 25% tariff on U.S. pork.”
Crawford explained that China has been purchasing a record amount of pork from many countries as it continues to recover from African swine fever outbreaks.
According to McKinney, as China makes the transition to larger, more efficient hog production facilities, “purchases of finished pork will probably slide a bit in China at some point in the future.”
As such, the U.S. will need to find new markets for its pork.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” he said.
RaboResearch senior animal protein analyst Christine McCracken recently reported that China now accounts for more than 40% of global pork imports, over four times larger than its nearest competitor. However, China has already begun to restore domestic hog production, and when it recovers, “exporters will be hard pressed to find alternative markets for these volumes.”
Rabobank estimates that China's breeding herd is 15% above trough levels and will continue to expand.
“Although the re-establishment of China’s breeding herd and production assets is a multiyear process, it is now apparent that China is confident in its ability to manage additional virus events,” McCracken added.
Rabobank projects that China could return to 95% self-sufficiency as soon as 2024-25.
“This provides a window of continued opportunity for global pork exporters to see incremental demand increases, but this window is likely to close in the coming years,” McCracken said.
For now, total U.S. pork export are running well above last year. USDA is forecasting 2020 U.S. pork exports to be 16% higher in volume than last year.
A North Carolina pork producer told USDA’s Radio Newsline, “Export markets are the difference between us staying in business or us going out of business.”