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Import ban raises pork rib prices in China

Beijing

THE cost of China's much-loved pork rib dishes is soaring, with Beijing having suspended imports of pork from major supplier Germany, in the process hurting restaurants still recovering from the coronavirus hit this year.

Pork ribs are one of China's best-selling menu items, but restaurants who serve the cut use imports, which can be up to 10 times cheaper than local supplies.

Germany was among the biggest suppliers of ribs to China until it confirmed its first case of African swine fever this month.

After Beijing stopped all German pork imports, prices of frozen ribs surged, say restauranteurs. The price hike has eroded their profits just as the number of customers have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

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The price rise also comes after domestic pork hit new highs last year, when China's production plunged because of its own African swine fever outbreak. China, which produces half the world's pork, raised imports by 134 per cent in the first eight months of this year to offset its shortfall.

But amid strong demand, imported back ribs had already almost doubled from last year's price to 11 yuan (S$2.25) per kg in May, said the manager of an Inner Mongolia-based branch of a ribs-and-rice chain. The restaurant uses about half a tonne of ribs each week for its 29-yuan set of back ribs with soup and rice.

About half typically comes from Germany, and the rest from Spain, Denmark or elsewhere. This week, prices jumped to 14 yuan, and could hit 16 yuan by next week, the manager said, adding: "This is costing me an extra 300 yuan a day, the equivalent of hiring three more staff. I hope I can survive this year."

Imported pork, usually frozen, is used more by restaurants and canteens than supermarkets, which sell fresh local meat.

The prices of imported ribs have risen more significantly than other cuts because Germany is such a large supplier, said Liu Xiaofeng, managing director at consultancy Meat International Group, which shipped 20,000 tonnes of spare ribs to China in May.

The United States, China's largest pork supplier overall, consumes more ribs at home than European countries, meaning it has little to supplement China's supplies. Spain, another of China's major rib suppliers, will benefit from the higher prices, as will Denmark and the Netherlands.

Though domestic pork prices are falling as China rebuilds its huge hog herd, they remain much higher than European items.

Cao Xianli, who owns a ribs and rice restaurant in Qingdao, says raising menu prices is not an option because it will put off customers who have only just come back. REUTERS

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