Asia: Where the opportunities lie, by country

Where are the opportunities for UK exports to Asia?


China is at the top of the list when it comes to opportunities for meat exports to Asia. The size of the population, high consumption and import levels make it an attractive prospect, even though there are challenges in market access and sizeable competition from other exporters.

Pork is the main meat consumed in China, and the country is the UK’s biggest pork export market. While African swine fever (ASF) resulted in a reduction in local production and compressed availability for consumers, it is expected to rebound. During ASF, as Chinese consumers increased their consumption of poultry and other meats, imports of pork into China still reached record highs to fill the gap left by the drop in ASF hit domestic production. Key products such as trotters and offal are shipped to China as there is limited demand for them in the UK domestic market, but these are popular in China.

During ASF, beef demand and prices increased as consumers sought other proteins. Despite ASF subsiding, demand for beef is still high, and prices remain strong as a result (at the time of writing). In 2018, Chinese beef imports totalled just over 1 million tonnes (Mt). Between 2019 and 2021, Chinese beef imports averaged over 2 Mt and were approaching 3 Mt for 2022 alone.

Opportunities for British beef and sheep meat to China lie with forequarter cuts of beef and lamb which will help with overall carcase balance.

Likewise, demand for offal in China is robust and provides an avenue for UK-produced offal, which is not widely consumed in the domestic market. Looking ahead, China’s GDP growth is slowing down, and there will be demand for affordable proteins. The UK can target this demand with cuts and products not favoured domestically.

China is also an important market for UK dairy exports. While the UK already exports some dairy products to China, quantities are relatively modest. High food safety and production standards hold UK dairy in good stead with Chinese consumers ‒ but the challenge is competition from New Zealand.

There is also great potential for UK barley exports to China for both feed and malting purposes. France is one of the UK’s key competitors for the Chinese barley market. An area where the UK has a competitive advantage over France is its farm and trade assurance schemes ‒ known among Chinese barley customers to be the best in Europe and often discussed as a point of difference.

Hong Kong and Singapore

Hong Kong’s beef and pork consumption are the highest in Asia. The main target for UK red meat is the foodservice sector and high-end retailers. Hong Kong’s population is less than 7.5 million, but it attracts over 50 million tourists. It also has a considerable, financially comfortable expat population.

Singapore is a similar market in this respect, but with a proportionally higher expat population (just under 30% in 2020). Again, premium cuts for foodservice and high-end retailers represent the best opportunity for UK red meat.

Hong Kong and Singapore are also important dairy importers in the region. As for meat, relatively affluent consumers inclined to Western culture would be targets for premium British products such as cheese.

The UK has beef, pork, sheep meat and dairy access in both of these markets, and there are no import tariffs on these products. While there is considerable competition for exports to Hong Kong and Singapore, there is certainly a niche the UK can carve.


There are opportunities for UK pork, beef and sheep meat in Japan, which is a high-value economy and net importer. In 2019, the UK gained market access for beef and lamb, having already acquired access for pork in 2011. Japan is one of the strongest markets globally for beef tongues, which is positive from a UK perspective in terms of carcase balance.

The UK sends some pork to Japan, mainly femur bones and some pork shoulders which helps to balance the mainly loin driven UK market. A potential selling point for UK pork in the Japanese market is its high-welfare production.

The Japanese prefer grain-fed beef, which poses a challenge for UK producers, especially as the main beef suppliers to Japan are Australia and the USA.

Japan is not a big sheep meat importer, but there is some regional consumption and an interest in quality, lean carcases, which are considered a healthy option.

For dairy, Japan is the top cheese importer in Asia and imports are expected to grow by just under a third over the next decade. Currently, UK cheese exports to Japan are on the scale of hundreds of tonnes, considerably behind the tens of thousands being shipped from New Zealand, Australia, the USA and some EU countries. As a result, it will be difficult for the UK to considerably expand its share of the Japanese cheese market.

In general terms, Japan is placing increasing importance on food produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, and the UK is in a position to fulfil this requirement.

Practically, there can be challenges in conducting business with Japan, where trust is built on face-to-face meetings and developing strong long-term relationships.


The Philippines has considerable export potential for UK pork and lower-value beef products. Pork jowls, livers and offal are popular and bought from local markets. Demand for beef has been strong since ASF took hold across the region. The Philippines is a price-sensitive market, and ‒ while it has a large population (more than 100 million people) ‒ budgets are generally tight.

The Philippines is part of the Regional Comprehensive and Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade bloc which includes Australia and New Zealand. This, in addition to the short distance between these countries, gives Australia and New Zealand (both large beef exporters in the region) a further advantage in supplying beef to the Philippines.

South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan (Republic of China) represent further prospects for British agri-food exports in Asian markets.

South Korea

South Korea’s pork and beef consumption are among the highest in Asia. The UK has market access for pork, and we are currently progressing access discussions for beef which will be important going forward as South Korea is a considerable beef importer.

British pork is perceived to be expensive by Korean importers, so trade with South Korea works particularly well when the pound is weak, as exports are more competitive then, and when the UK has an exportable surplus. The main competitor for pork exports is Germany, which is a larger producer than the UK.

The UK has an agreement with South Korea, a continuity deal from its time as a member of the EU. Under this agreement, UK cheese can enter the South Korean market tariff-free from 2027, which is a favourable prospect given that it is the second-highest cheese importer in Asia after Japan (based on 2019–21 average).


Vietnamese consumers prefer fresh meat, usually bought locally in wet markets. However, due to growing concerns over food safety, there is increasing interest in chilled products.

Beef flank, chuck and other steak cuts are popular among consumers; for pork, belly cuts rate highly. This benefits carcase balance, given the lower demand for pork bellies in the UK.

Beef imports are mainly frozen, boneless cuts. As there is strong competition in the retail sector, foodservice is likely to offer the best opportunity, particularly for high-quality beef cuts.

Production costs are high in Vietnam, so the country requires a high level of beef imports to meet domestic demand. Most imports are from India (mainly buffalo), the USA and Australia.

The UK does not have market access for red meat in Vietnam but is expected to be granted access for pork soon which may lead to beef access discussions.

While Vietnamese consumption of dairy products is not among the highest in Asia, it is a developing market with potential. Consumption is increasing, and domestic production is inadequate to satisfy demand. For the UK, cheese probably has the best export potential among dairy products.

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Taiwan’s high meat consumption makes it an attractive target for UK red meat exports, particularly pork. The UK was granted market access for pork in 2018 and has since submitted an application for sheep meat. Pork collars are the main UK pork product imported. While Taiwan’s population is considered small (about 24 million) it is a relatively westernised Asian market. Low-value offal, not in demand in the UK, are also a good export for the Taiwanese market. The country also imports beef which mainly comes from the USA.

Demand for dairy products in Taiwan has grown as consumers shift further towards Western cuisine, and there is a buoyant drinks and coffee market. Cheese consumption is growing in Taiwan, and there is potential for the UK to expand on what it currently exports (600 tonnes based on 2019–21 average).

While there are some opportunities in India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, these are likely more long-term aspirations.


Beef is a certain ‘no’ for the Indian market, but there is some potential for pork and sheep meat. India’s huge population is a big plus, and its many international businesses and five-star hotels mean the hospitality and food service sectors offer some promise for UK exporters. In the short term, logistics are challenging. UK sheep meat exports may benefit in the long term, although currently, India only imports a few hundred tonnes at most, mainly from New Zealand.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand

While the UK has halal certification for Malaysia and Indonesia, we currently do not have market access in place to facilitate trade. High-end retail or low-value cuts/offal are the areas to target in the future. Although export health certificates (EHC) for Thailand are in place for beef and sheep meat, high tariff rates disincentivise exports there.

Further reading about exports and consumer behaviours

The pork market in Korea, July 2020 

The beef market in China, June 2020 

AHDB's international consumers webpage

Harnessing consumer buying behaviour for British exports, March 2022

Understanding red meat buying behaviours in Southeast Asia, May 2022