UK pork exports set modern day record

Jonathan Eckley, AHDB head of Asia Pacific, delves into the numbers that show the how UK pork industry achieved record export volumes in 2019. 

Pork exports from the UK broke new ground in 2019, smashing the half billion mark to reach £609 million.

Eckley JonathanThis 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 2018. Included in this figure is an 12% rise in chilled and frozen pork and 40,000 tonnes of processed pork products.

These strong figures have been rising gradually over the last few years, with total pig meat exports first breaking the 300,000 tonne barrier back in 2016. With a continued focus on exports, a near 20% increase in volume has been added over the past three 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, 2019 saw unprecedented demand from China following the ASF outbreak in 2018 and a continued shortfall of domestically produced pork carried into 2019. As a result, UK total pig meat exports of China rose to 131,000 tonnes, up 61% on the year – worth a staggering £191 million compared to £77 million the previous year.

The demand and particularly strong China prices in the Autumn resulted in shipments to some other Asian markets easing off, including the price sensitive Philippine market. However, the newly opened Taiwanese market added £6.1 million to UK exports in the first full year of trading following the market opening to UK pork late in 2018.

But the Asia marketplace wasn’t the only destination to boost our pork figures. The USA finished the year as the second largest destination outside the EU for UK pork exporters, this was 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 the trade stalling towards the year-end. Also, albeit at lower levels, exports to Australia were strong and double on the year.

And while exports to non-EU countries rose in 2019, Europe is still a hugely important destination for our pork exports accounting for just half of the total value of shipments. Ireland remained the largest EU market for UK pork exports, despite a small overall decline in shipments, driven by lower bacon exports.

Germany and the Netherlands were the next two most important destinations with the EU accounting for a combined 20% of overall exports. The New Year has not been without its challenges, notably the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in China.

The situation has created some logistical issues, due to shortage of man-power 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.

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