DES MOINES, Iowa — Pork exports are a concern for the U.S. pork industry, according to an industry analyst.

“We have temporarily lost our competitive position in global pork markets. Fewer pigs are coming to markets and there are fewer of them,” said Dermot Hayes, professor of economics, Pioneer Chair in Agribusiness and Charles F. Curtiss Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. University.

U.S. pork exports are down overall, including to China. This decrease is due to a combination of factors. China bought a record amount of American pork in 2020 due to the African swine fever outbreak there.

“They went to the biggest supplier and they bought a bunch of pork from us and that was the boneless pork that we exported in March-May 2020,” Hayes said.

In April 2018, China imposed a 25% tariff on U.S. pork in retaliation for then-President Donald Trump’s imposition of a tariff on steel and metal imports. aluminum in the United States. This rate is still in effect today.

“They came to us when they were desperate, but we pay an extra 25% duty on top of our competitors,” Hayes said.

“Things are surprisingly bad, in the short term, for us.”

— Dermot Hayes, Professor of Economics, Iowa State University

China has turned to cheaper European pork, which is not subject to the 25% tariff.

“In just one quarter, Spain was able to export nearly half a million tons of pork to China,” said Hayes, who added that Spain had become a major supplier of pork to China.

But China has managed to rebuild its pig herd, at least in part, and Hayes noted that this has led to an overall drop in China’s pork imports.

“I think the Chinese statistics reflect what the government wants to hear rather than what is happening. They claim to have rebuilt their herd at an extremely rapid rate. I don’t think they’ve done it, but I think they’re getting there,” Hayes said.

In August 2021, the Chinese government announced that its minimum sow herd inventory would be no less than 40 million breeding animals until 2025.

“Their kill rate has recovered and that’s probably a good number,” Hayes said.

With fewer exports to China, EU countries, such as Spain, have become competitive with the United States in other Asian markets, including South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

“Some of the big declines in exports have to do with the fact that we don’t have a lot of pork, that we charge a lot for it, that China has a lot of pork and doesn’t buy as much, and that Europe has a surplus. and has to find a home for it. So things are surprisingly bad, in the short term, for us,” Hayes said.

“Germany was one of the top two or three exporters to China. They had African swine fever and they lost that case,” Hayes told his audience at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines.

The idea that the United States could be the next country hit by African swine fever has been reinforced by Hayes’ update on American pork imports.

“We have now become a pork importer. We imported in 2020, 91,000 pounds of pork, and so far this year, 162,000. We buy pork from Canada, of course, but more recently from Mexico, Denmark and Poland. Poland has African swine fever, which seems a bit strange to me, and Brazil. We are concerned about some of the places we are importing from because of the tremendous danger of importing a foreign animal disease,” Hayes said.