In the first nine months of this year beef imports into China increased by 14%, compared with the same period in 2013 to 238,800 tonnes, according to EBLEX.

It says growing demand for beef imports is a direct consequence of declining domestic output in China, at a time when demand for a protein-rich diet is increasing.

EBLEX says China’s domestic beef industry is facing several challenges, including breeding, productivity, farm management and feed resources.

With such limitations to beef production in China, the country is highly dependent on imports. China imports beef from three key markets, Australia, Uruguay and New Zealand.

According to EBLEX together, they account for almost 90% of the total. Australia contributed to 45% of the total with volumes rising by 5%.

EBLEX says that imports from Australia have, however, slowed since the start of the year and in the third quarter volumes shipped actually fell by 1%.

Imports from Uruguay on the other hand rose by a third, compared with the January to September period in 2013.

EBLEX says China has historically only imported Uruguayan offals and small volumes of inexpensive boneless beef cuts.

However, it says Uruguay now ranks second to Australia as its top supplier, with a whole range of product in the mix.

EBLEX says New Zealand maintained its position in the Chinese market, while supplying 8% more beef than a year earlier.

Brazil was once the third largest supplier of beef to China, where value amounted to around 310.6 RMB million.

However, EBLEX says the BSE disease ban imposed towards the end of 2012 meant China lost this market.

It says China has now opened its doors to Brazilian beef, with eight plants already been given the green light while there is a possibility of other nine plants also entering the Chinese market again. However, EBLEX says it is worth noting that these developments have not been reflected in the latest trade figures.