There is a reason why an increasingly desperate Beijing is willing to suspend tariffs on US pork exports, and it has nothing to do with trade war de-escalation or concessions, and everything to do with preventing an angry and hungry mob from running rampant across China’s streets.
As Caixin reports, the widespread outbreak of African swine fever that has prompted China to slaughter millions of pigs has caused 1 trillion yuan ($140 billion) of direct losses, an industry expert estimates; if correct, the direct damage from the “pig ebola” is far greater than the monetary damages incurred from two years of escalating trade tariffs with the US.
The shocking number was unveiled at a pig industry forum last Tuesday by Li Defa, who heads the College of Animal Science and Technology at China Agricultural University, and who notes that the upstream and downstream of the pork industry chain, such as pig feed and catering industry, were not included in the calculation, suggesting the full indirect losses from the crippling pork virus could be orders of magnitude greater.
For over a year, China’s pork industry has been crippled by an outbreak of the deadly pig virus since at least August 2018, when the first case was reported in Northeast China’s Liaoning province. It has since spread to all provincial level regions in the country, wiping out between one-third and half of all Chinese hog stocks and sending pork prices to record highs….
That’s contributed to broader food inflation. In August, China’s consumer price index, which measures the prices of a select basket of consumer goods and services, rose 2.8% year-on-year, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The average pork price increased 46.7% year-on-year — the fastest pace in more than eight years — adding 1.08 percentage points to CPI growth.
The price of live pigs has surpassed 40 yuan per kilogram in late -September, more than doubling from when the epidemic first became publicly known in August last year.
Even the WaPo recently noted that “the most pressing political problem facing China’s leaders this week may not be the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Nor the protracted trade war with the United States. No, it is probably a shortage of pork — during the Chinese zodiac year of the pig, no less — that has become so severe that the rulers of the Communist Party declared stabilizing pork supply and prices to be an ‘important political task’.”
Pork, as is widely known, is the main meat consumed in China, accounting for more than 60% of the country’s meat demand. The country is expected to consume 55 million tons of pork in 2020 with an estimated population of 1.4 billion, said Li: the Chinese love to eat pork. Red fried pork. Sweet-and-sour pork ribs. Glazed pork belly. Twice-cooked pork. Pork dumplings. Trotters. Chinese eat an average of 120 pounds of pork a year. Half the world’s pork is consumed here….