Japanese pork imports dip

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Despite strong gains in pork imports into Japan last year, trade has eased in the first quarter of 2018.

Import volumes were down 2% year-on-year, according to the latest figures from the Japan Ministry of Finance, at 220,100 tonnes. Value similarly fell by 2%, to 116 billion Yen.

A 6% (-4,000 tonnes) year-on-year drop in shipments from the US was a key driver of the overall decline, and resulted in the US share of the market declining by a percentage point. Canada also recorded a 3% (-1,300 tonnes) fall in volumes traded compared with year earlier levels. This particularly reflects sharp declines (-14% and -33% respectively) in frozen pork shipments from these two countries during the quarter.

Japan’s frozen pork import market is dominated by the EU, which typically accounts for over 60% of the total supplied. Virtually all EU pork shipped to Japan is frozen product. In contrast to the North American suppliers, Japanese pork imports from the EU were stable on the year during the quarter. Within this, imports from Spain were up 11% year-on-year (+2,700 tonnes), the Netherlands 13% (+700 tonnes), Germany 6% (+300 tonnes) and Italy 19% (+500 tonnes). Conversely, imports from Denmark, typically the largest EU supplier, were down 9% (-2,500 tonnes). This meant Spain became the primary EU trader.

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Pork wholesale prices have fallen sharply in Japan so far this year, with the March average the lowest since early 2013. This will have weakened the competitiveness of imported product, and also suggests supplies may be ahead of current demand levels.

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Despite this, the fact EU shipments have held firm even with an overall decline in volumes traded during the first quarter, may be a positive sign for EU export prospects to Japan this year. Also, the latest USDA forecasts actually anticipate that Japanese pork imports could increase 2% (+25,000 tonnes cwe) during 2018. If realised, this may further boost opportunities for growth. The forecast expansion reflects an anticipated 1% (+36,000 tonnes cwe) increase in Japanese pork consumption, while production is expected to remain broadly stable. In contrast to Europe, Japanese consumers have reportedly been moving away from fish and towards pork and other meats. Time will tell if this trend continues, and stimulates a return to pork import growth.

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Bethan Wilkins, Analyst

bethan.wilkins@ahdb.org.uk, 024 7647 8757