African Swine Fever’s Influence Prevails Over Global Pork Markets

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Since 2018, African swine fever (ASF) has been the dominant issue in the global animal protein outlook. According to the June ASF Update from RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, that hasn’t changed despite the distortions and interruptions COVID-19 has caused recently.

“It’s no surprise that COVID has really sucked up a lot of the oxygen in the room when it comes to the outlook for animal protein,” said Christine McCracken during day one of the Iowa Swine Day 2020 Webinar Series.

However, it’s Rabobank’s view that ASF will have more profound and longer-lasting impacts on global animal protein markets than COVID-19.

Here are the four key points from the June report:

1.    ASF is still the major influence on global pork markets.
Hotspots of ASF activity can be found in the Philippines and eastern Europe. However, ASF continues to impact herds and restrict production in China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia and Europe.

With no ASF vaccine expected in the near future, biosecurity remains the most effective defense against ASF. In China, widespread outbreaks have not been reported yet this year and can likely be attributed to improved biosecurity, lower hog population density and knowledge and experience gained in the past year, Rabobank explains.

2.    China and Southeast Asia will continue to increase pork imports.
Rabobank forecasts China’s pork production to decline by a further 15% to 20% this year with Vietnam and the Philippines declines predicted closer to 10%. 

As a result, import demand will rise in these countries in 2020. Rabobank expects pork imports to reach record levels in China, along with strong imports of other species.

“China’s pork import growth has accelerated in the first four months of 2020, with meat imports up 180% year over year and variety meat imports up 29% year over year. While this is compared with relatively low import levels in early 2019, even compared with the four months of September to December 2019, the increase is still impressive, with meat imports up 58% and variety meats up 16%,” the report said.

Rabobank expects imports for the rest of 2020 to ease in the coming months and pick up again in late third quarter and fourth quarter, assuming COVID-19-related supply restrictions in exporting countries have improved by that point.

3.    Global supply has tightened as a result of COVID-19.
Although pork production was expected to increase in North America, Brazil and parts of Europe this year, the impact of COVID-19 has changed those expectations.

Rabobank also expects lower pork consumption mostly due to the reduction in foodservice channel operations. Unfortunately, Rabobank doesn’t believe the reduction in consumption will make up for reduced production. They expect relatively tight pork markets in the year ahead.

“The economic slowdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced consumer confidence, and we expect prices will need to adjust to enable consumption to match availability,” Rabobank analysts said.

4.    Many uncertainties blur the trade outlook.
Slaughter capacity has returned to higher levels at this point than many predicted. However, uncertainties make it hard to predict what’s ahead. Rabobank says the main uncertainties associated with ASF and influenced by COVID-19 in the global pork market include the loss of production associated with processing plant closures and slowing of operations, the possibility that ongoing geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China will affect pork trade, and the risk of an ASF outbreak in a major producing country in Europe, such as Germany, the report notes.

“Geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, tariff levels, and currency movements in response to the economic slowdown will create opportunities for some exporters and risks for others,” Rabobank notes. “Absent these risk factors, we expect the strongest export growth in 2020 to come from the U.S.”

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