China acknowledges domestic pork shortage

Rising prices are now a top political concern for Beijing

Fresh meat for sale at a grocery market in the city of Zunyi, in China’s Guizhou province. The country's pig farming industry is undergoing a second crisis in a decade, this time caused by African swine fever.

News reports from Asia indicate the Chinese government is finally having to own up about that country’s pork shortages due to African swine fever (ASF) and trade disputes.

The South China Morning Post has reported that Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua has been assigned to oversee the issue of rising pork prices that could mar October’s 70th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party’s takeover of the country.

The severe extent of China’s hog losses because of the deadly pig disease became clear in late April at the Ottawa conference on stopping ASF from reaching the Americas. It seemed clear then that China was blocking shipments of Canadian canola because it no longer needed the feed and not because of the alleged contamination that it has yet to explain to the satisfaction of Canadian officials. There was no immediate indication the situation in China could lead to an end to the ban on Canadian pork and beef imports, again said to be unjustified.

A sharp rise in pork prices has hurt China, the world’s second-largest economy, and stoked outspoken public concern in recent weeks, the news report said.

China’s State Council recently issued new guidelines calling on local governments and various government departments to boost the national pork supply. The news report also said that stabilizing pig production amid rapidly rising pork prices has overtaken the 14-month trade war with the United States and the three months of political unrest in Hong Kong as China’s top priority.

“Pig farming is an important industry that matters to the nation’s plan and people’s living,” the State Council said. “Pork is the main meat for most Chinese residents. It has significant meaning in terms of ensuring people’s lives, stabilizing prices, keeping stable economic operation and maintaining overall social stability.”

The latest Chinese consumer price index showed that pork prices rose 46.7 per cent in August compared to a year earlier, almost double the 27 per cent rise in July.

This month Hu inspected pig farms and slaughterhouses throughout China, urging local governments to do whatever is necessary to increase the pork supply.

He also told a national conference on Aug. 30 that it was not only an economic but also a political imperative to ensure a sufficient supply of pork, a staple of the Chinese diet.

“If people can’t access or be able to afford pork in 2020, when China will become a comprehensively well-off society, it will seriously affect the achievements of a well-off society and hurt the image of the party and the state,” Hu said.

Environment Minister Li Ganjie said it is “a critical political task now to safeguard live hog production and ensure pork supply.”

The ministry is now prohibiting local governments from creating “no-pig zones” in the name of environmental protection, in a marked U-turn in policy after China closed hundreds of thousands of pig farms in recent years to safeguard local conditions.

Other government agencies from the Ministry of Transportation to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission have also been mobilized to help boost the supply of pork. The banking regulator has told banks not to turn down any loan applications from a pig farm, while highway toll fees will be waived for trucks carrying pigs or frozen pork.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission is offering hefty subsidies to any pig farm that seeks to rebuild or expand existing facilities or relocate from areas where breeding is still forbidden due to ASF.

Retail pork prices are one of the major indicators used by Chinese citizens to informally gauge their financial well-being, and at the moment, that well-being is being eroded rapidly, the news report said.

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