Between January and June 2021, China imported 1.1m tonnes of beef compared with just under 1m tonnes for the same period in 2020.
All of its top four beef suppliers increased business during the first half of 2021.
Brazil remains its main source of beef, supplying 431,000t in the first half of this year compared with 350,000t for the same period last year.
Argentina increased its supplies to 252,000t compared to 217,000t for the first half of 2020, while Uruguay increased from 116,000t last year to 156,000t this year between January and June.
New Zealand increased marginally from 95,000t to 102,000t but Australia declined significantly from 162,000t in first half of 2020 to 76,361t in the same period this year due to a drought-induced scarcity combined with delisting of some suppliers.
Brazil remains its main source of beef, supplying 431,000t in the first half of this year compared with 350,000t for the same period last year
The significant change is the growth in business with the US, which supplied 54,000t this year between January and June compared with just 6,000t in the first half of last year.
Ireland remains out of the market since the suspension following the discovery of a BSE case in May last year.
Pig prices have been falling in China this year and while imports have increased on last year, the increase was by 160,000t compared with more than doubling between the first half of 2019 and 2020. Rebuilding of the pig heard after African swine fever (ASF) is progressing and will in time reduce the need for pigmeat imports.
Irish pigmeat exports
China has been a growing market for Irish pigmeat exports, taking 40,000t in the first half of this year compared with 31,000t for the same period last year, which was a large increase on the 22,000t taken in the first six months of 2019.
The surge in New Zealand sheepmeat exports to China in recent years has taken huge volumes that otherwise would have made their way to Europe.
New Zealand exports increased again in the first half of 2021 to 153,000t compared with 117,000t for the same period in 2020.
The other significant supplier of sheepmeat to China is Australia, which sent 76,000t in the first half of this year compared with 84,000t in the same period last year.
Ireland has not yet secured access for sheepmeat to China.
China has been the key driver for global meat demand over the past three years and it will be interesting to observe if the slowdown this year marks a saturation point in the market or just a pause.
The instinct is that it is a market with considerable further growth potential and like elsewhere normal society has been impacted by COVID-19.
While it is only Irish dairy and pigmeat that can access the Chinese market at present, the fact that they buy so much South American beef and New Zealand lamb, creates space in European markets for Irish exporters to fill.
It would be better if we were doing business directly but the indirect benefit is also beneficial.