Blog: Planes, trains and automobiles – getting back to business in the Far East

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

A couple of weeks ago, and for the first time since November 2019, I managed to successfully navigate the post-Covid complexities and return to our most significant export market for British pig meat, China.

First on the to-do list was my visa. All Chinese visas were suspended in March 2020, but after a tiresome application for a new one, I welcomed the announcement that all visas were to be reinstated just before my trip.

Then, who knew how few pre-flight Covid tests are on offer in the UK now? China remains one of the few countries that requires a pre-flight negative result. So, a hastily-arranged trip to the airport a day prior to departure was the order of the day, followed by the apprehensive wait for a negative result.

Twenty-four hours later, certificate in hand, I excitedly boarded the flight and headed to China for the International Meat Industry Week in Qingdao.

Despite the challenges, it was amazing to be back in China and, most importantly, to reconnect face-to-face with so many important industry stakeholders. Not least, Holly Chen, our China-based representative, who works solely for AHDB via the China-Britain Business Council.

Holly has been key in maintaining our presence in China while our UK-based team and UK exporters were unable to travel to the market. Holly’s knowledge of our sector is clear, and it’s been inspirational to see the respect she has built with our UK exporters, in-market teams and, most importantly, the major players in the Chinese protein market. Her dedication and knowledge add tremendous value to our work in China. It’s been fantastic to witness this first-hand again.

Undoubtedly, the Chinese pig meat market is in a more challenging position than when I last visited. This is, in part, due to some recovery in domestic production combined with the pandemic severely impacting the all-important foodservice sector. Despite this, exports to China added nearly £203m to the UK pork sector in 2022. I only have data for January this year, but shipments to China were valued at £14.5m in the month alone, and it was interesting to see strong demand for fifth-quarter exports.

While China emerges from the pandemic and some green shoots of economic growth are reported widely, the pandemic has certainly left some scars in the short term; inevitably, there will be some trading down, driving demand for fifth-quarter products. But, as we’ve maintained for some time, finding a market for every part of the carcase is so important, and the Chinese market is key to this. We will continue to work hard to maximise the opportunity the market holds.

Despite the challenges travelling to China poses, from endless hours spent at airports, on planes or in never-ending traffic jams getting from A to B around Qingdao, it was an incredibly valuable trip.

I very much look forward to visiting Shanghai for China’s most important meat trade event, SIAL China (18–20 May 2023), where AHDB will host all leading UK pork exporters, who I know are also excited to be getting back to China. If my visit to Qingdao is anything to go by, Shanghai will be an incredibly popular event!

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

Find out more about our export activity

Image of staff member Jonathan Eckley

Jonathan Eckley

Head of International Trade Development

See full bio