How China’s ASF outbreaks affected global pork markets


African swine fever (ASF) spread from Europe to China in 2018—one of the largest animal disease incidents ever. The outbreak reduced China’s pork supply, and Chinese pork prices more than doubled to reach record levels.

The ASF virus moved from Europe to China in August 2018, and then spread rapidly throughout the country. The virus impacted China’s pork supply more than indicated by the number of officially reported outbreaks. Following China’s first ASF cases, its swine herd went through a 30-month cycle of decline and recovery from the third quarter of 2018 (Q3) to 2021 (Q1). China lost an estimated 27.9 million metric tons of its pork production during the 30-month cycle.

China imported a record volume of pork during those months, but the imports replaced only one-fifth of lost production. Thus, China experienced shortfalls in pork supplies for about 18 months, concentrated during the second half of 2019 and most of 2020.

Increases in pork prices lagged the spread of the disease. Pork prices in China more than doubled, with most of the increase occurring about a year after the initial outbreaks. Pork prices remained at a high level for 14 months and then fell rapidly during 2021. Pork prices returned to near their pre-ASF level about 38 months after the first outbreaks.

Pork exports to China surged during 2019–20. China accounted for 45% of world pork imports in 2020. A total of 31 countries exported pork to China, but the European Union accounted for 58% of the exports. The United States was the second-leading pork exporter to China, with a 15% share, despite trade tensions that coincided with China’s ASF outbreaks.

During the 14-month peak in China’s import demand, the share of pork exported to China increased for top pork-exporting countries. Sales of higher value cuts grew fastest.

Impacts on pork markets outside of China were relatively modest. For example, increases in pork prices in three leading pork exporting countries (the United States, Germany, and Spain) were relatively brief and much smaller in magnitude than price increases in China.

Volatility in China’s pork market is an ongoing source of uncertainty for exporters despite the rebound in China’s production. by materials