BLOG: UK pork exports set modern day record

Friday, 28 February 2020

by Jonathan Eckley – AHDB Head of Asia Pacific

Pork exports from the UK broke new ground in 2019 – smashing the half-billion mark to reach £609 million. This is a phenomenal result for our pork exports, with total volumes of pig meat, including offal, surging past 378,000 tonnes for the full year. This is 9% higher than in 2018. Included in this figure is a 12% rise in chilled and frozen pork.

These strong figures have been rising gradually over the last few years. Total pig meat exports first broke the 300,000 tonne barrier back in 2016, which was first time since 1998. With a continued focus on exports, a near 20% increase in volume has been added over the past 3 years.

Demand from Asia has been evident in recent years, with strong growth being reported from across the region. This demand resulted in 50% of UK total pig meat exports being destined for third-country markets. However, following the African swine fever outbreak in 2018, there was unprecedented demand from China in 2019 and a continued shortfall of domestically produced pork. As a result, UK total pig meat exports to China rose to 131,000 tonnes – up 61% on the year and worth a staggering £191 million compared with £77 million in the previous year.

High demand and particularly strong Chinese prices in the autumn meant that shipments to some other Asian markets eased off, including the price-sensitive Filipino market. However, the Taiwanese market added £6.1 million to UK exports in the first full year of trading, following the market being opened to UK pork in late 2018.

The Asian marketplace wasn’t the only one to boost our pork figures. The USA finished the year as the second-largest destination outside the EU for UK pork exporters, despite year-end volume falling below 2018 levels. It was a year of two halves for US shipments: at the halfway mark, exports were up 10% in volume, but the introduction of a tariff on EU pork resulted in trade stalling towards the year-end. Also, albeit from a lower base,  exports to Australia were strong and double on the year.

While exports to non-EU countries rose in 2019, Europe remains a hugely important destination for our pork exports, accounting for half of the total value of shipments. Ireland remained the largest EU market for UK pork exports; this despite a small overall decline in shipments, driven by lower bacon exports. Germany and the Netherlands were the next two most important destinations within the EU, accounting for a combined 20% of overall exports. The New Year has not been without its challenges; notably, in light of the continuing COVID-19 outbreak in China. This situation has created some logistical issues associated with a shortage of labour as people hunker down. No doubt this will result in some challenging conditions in the short term; however, the underlying fundamentals remain positive for the sector in the longer term.