China brings home the bacon for Spanish pig meat exporters

Thursday, 17 June 2021

In 2020, Spain exported 2.78 million tonnes of pig meat (including offal), up 23% from 2019.

The overwhelming driver behind this growth was China (as was the case for total EU exports); shipments to which more than doubled year-on-year to 1.31 million tonnes, 47% of Spain’s total pig meat exports for the year. Trade with China has underpinned the multi-year expansion in Spain’s white pork sector.

In previous years, the majority of Spain’s pig meat exports have stayed within the EU. However, the EU’s share has been gradually declining, making way for exports further afield. In 2020, exports to non-EU countries overtook those to the EU for the first time, making up 62% of Spain’s total pig meat shipments (or 1.72 million tonnes). Exports to China alone exceeded the quantity sent to the EU during the year, with Spain helping to fill the shortfall caused by the ASF-related ban on shipments from Germany.

Strong growth in volumes sent to China has also appeared to come at the expense of shipments to other key Asian markets: Japan, South Korea and Philippines to name a few.

Record exports have been fuelled by record production

Pig meat production in Spain has been on an upward trend for decades, with continuous year-on-year growth seen over the past six years. This continued into 2020, despite COVID-19 creating a difficult year for the EU meat sector, with Spain slaughtering 56.5 million pigs during the year, 7% more than the year before, according to data from the European Commission.

Spain is estimated to have grown its pig herd by 5% (1.43 million head) in 2020, driven by high Chinese demand, which helped secure its place as the top producer of pig meat in the EU last year. Sow numbers were reportedly flat however, and so production in 2021 is expected to show more muted growth.


Spanish exports have showed no signs of slowing down in 2021, with 793,400 tonnes being shipped in the first quarter, a 27% increase on the same period a year ago. Again, China has been the key driver, with shipments double what they were during quarter one last year. Shipments have also increased to the Philippines and South Korea, but to a much lesser extent.

More recently however, anecdotal evidence suggests Chinese demand for Spanish pork is cooling, apparently due to its high price. Among the major exporters, Spanish deadweight pig prices are the highest in Europe, at €186.23/100kg in the week ending 6 June. A significant drop in exports could undermine the recent recovery in EU and possibly UK pig prices.

Image of staff member Hannah Clarke

Hannah Clarke

Senior Analyst (Red Meat)

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