Chinese Government likely to allow more beef imports

The Chinese Government is likely to allow more beef imports in the face of increasing consumer demand in the vast nation for beef according to lan O’Brien of Bord Bia’s Shanghai Office.

He said at farm level in China, while domestic production systems in remain largely backyard, production managed to keep pace with demand up to 2008. However with surging growth in consumer demand, the sector has now becoming more reliant on imports (380% import volume growth in 2013: 279,000t).

O’Brien detailed that growth in the China’s beef import market relies heavily on the strategy taken by the Chinese government, which must “weigh up” the economic viability of developing the domestic beef sector against a backdrop of rising imported feed coasts.

He said it is more likely that the government will continue to focus their investment efforts on China’s domestic pork and dairy sector and relax beef import policies in areas of quotas and tariffs.

According to O’Brien last month, China’s cabinet, the State Council, made the announcement that China will increase imports of beef (as well as lamb) but details have yet to be announced on the size of the quota increase and the use of tariff reductions.

It is estimated that beef imports, both “official” and unofficial combined, could reach 1.7 million by 2018, representing a year-on-year increase of approximately 15-20%. Currently, China’s beef import market is dominated by Australia (51%), Uruguay (25%), New Zealand (17%) and Canada (9%).

Beef is not a traditional meat item in China and the market remains in its infancy. China’s consumption of beef has been historically low (3% of overall meat consumption) predominantly consumed by the country’s Muslim population.

O’Brien said the beef sector has, therefore, not been a strategic focus for government in the context of domestic food security.

However, he noted that with income growth and the proliferation of western food service chains (McDonalds, Burger King) beef has grown in popularity from 0.32kg per capita in the 1980s to 5kg in 2009 and forecast to reach 6kg by 2025. This figure remains well below average western per capita consumption levels of around 20kg but is significant when China’s population–estimated to reach 1.39bn by 2030–is considered.