China Remains World’s Top Meat Importer

China has maintained its position as the world’s largest meat importer since 2019, despite a recent decrease in imported meat volumes, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report. In 2022, China’s meat imports were 43% higher than those of Japan, the second-largest meat-importing country. Factors such as disease, strict environmental laws and the departure of small-scale farmers have limited China’s meat supply, resulting in an increase in domestic prices and making imports more appealing.

Pork, the most consumed meat in China, generally dictates the nation’s meat supply and demand trends. The African swine fever epidemic in 2019 substantially lowered China’s pork supply, which boosted its position as the world’s top meat importer over Japan. Even though pork production recovered and meat imports subsequently fell, China retained its ranking in 2022.

At the same time, beef imports have been increasing because longer production cycles, insufficient grazing lands and persistent disease have hindered China’s ability to meet domestic beef demand. Chinese consumers are also consuming more poultry — mainly because it tends to be the most affordable meat — yet rising feed costs and diseases have inflated domestic poultry prices, leading to higher poultry imports.

While China’s meat consumption appeared to reach a peak after 2014, statistical models project usage will continue to rise through 2031. Trends such as changes in diet and moderate growth in income and prices drive this prediction. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn in 2022 have dampened consumption and the associated import prospects. Other factors — like ongoing disease risks and the high cost of livestock feed, which lowers profitability for local producers — continue to impact the market.