Meat shipping isn’t for the faint-hearted

Rob ShelleyWith an impressive 50% growth in the global meat trade over the past 10 years, meat shippers may have been thinking that Christmas was never-ending. Yet the past three years have witnessed a slowing of the meat trade rate to less than half the growth previously experienced.

It is only in China that a tempting gap is opening, with import demand soaring in response to slowing domestic production. It’s not a gap for the faint-hearted however – there are already alarming behaviours emerging. Recently smugglers tried to ship imported meat originally frozen way back in the 1970s through Hong Kong into Changsha, Hunan province in the hope of capitalising on a burgeoning opportunity.

A number of factors are driving the global slowdown, not least an instability in world trade, with countries like Russia seeking to exact penalties on its European cousins with an import ban and a strong focus on increasing domestic pig and poultry production. Having been the world’s largest meat importer 10 years ago, this represents a step-change in the meat shipping landscape. The economic growth in emerging and developing economies is also slowing. By contrast, Asian market growth means they now account for 54% of worldwide meat imports. The fact that Asia houses nine out of 10 of the world’s busiest ports is evidence of a real trade shift.

Beijing officials have recently announced China’s five-year plan, revealing a major shift in its approach to food, specifically a decision to increase imports rather than attempt to grow farming capacity. With a dramatic decline in the Chinese hog and sow herds over the past 18 months – Chinese pork production, for example, is forecast to drop by 3.7m/t (6.5%) to 53m/t in 2015 – opportunities for UK exporters are buoyant.

Global volatility combined with a movement away from freer trading environments due to a slowing of trade means meat shippers will need to be on their toes about which markets to focus on.

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