China to become net beef importer
China is set to become a net importer of beef this year.
Just two years ago China's exports exceeded registered imports by seven to one. But official beef imports are set to grow 30pc this year to 30,000t.
These imports will come mainly from Australia, Uruguay and New Zealand. In addition, however, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report suggests that at least a further 100,000t enters the country through "gray" channels, mainly from Brazil and the USA.
China is the fourth largest beef market in the world, at 5.5m tonnes. Domestic production is set to fall by 4.6pc this year. Official forecasts predict a 4.3pc drop in consumption, still leaving room for a small rise in imports.
But, with the population set to grow by 9m and the economy forecast to grow further in 2010, predictions of a decline in beef consumption may be too pessimistic.
China's calf crop is forecast to be down 4pc to 41m hd in 2010, yet China's efforts to grow domestic production continue, following the removal of 1m dairy cows in the wake of the melamine scandal in 2008. Live imports are forecast to increase 25pc to 45,000hd this year, mainly coming from Australia and New Zealand.
The challenge facing Chinese beef production is that pig and poultry farming yield better returns and a quicker return on investment, despite beef prices of €4.84/kg, which is 80pc higher than pork and more than twice the price of chicken.