China's African swine fever-affected pig herd is forecast to shrink to its lowest level in nearly 30 years.
In ASB's latest International Agri Insights report, United States agribusiness expert Bill Bailey looked at the impact of the disease on China's pork industry, and broader demand for protein.
African swine fever (ASF) has been found throughout much of China's pork country.
The disease - which does not harm humans - has a high mortality rate in pigs, is very contagious and there is no vaccine or cure.
Reports of contaminated herds were down from the high levels in October and November last year but it continued to spread in China's hog-producing provinces, Prof Bailey said.
Pork was China's most consumed protein. Nearly 53 million metric tonnes were forecast to be consumed in 2019, translating into 40kg per person.
Production was forecast to fall to 51 million metric tonnes this year, meaning China would need to import about two million metric tonnes to compensate for the loss of production due to ASF.
Chinese beef and chicken meat imports this year were expected to be about 20 per cent higher than last year, according to current forecasts, and pork imports were forecast to grow almost 30 per cent from last year's level.
"The consequence of this ASF challenge is likely to result in significant increases in pork imports, but could also result in increased imports of other meats, such as beef and sheep meat, which consumers may demand to compensate for a lack of pork or high pork prices,'' Bailey said.
World consumption of beef and veal was forecast to grow almost 2 per cent this year, with US consumption increasing 4 per cent.
China's beef consumption was expected to increase 4 per cent, partially in response to ASF issues but also continuing a well-established trend.
Much of that growth would be met by imported products and China's beef imports this year were forecast to increase 20 per cent on last year.
Although New Zealand's total beef exports this year were forecast to drop more than 6 per cent, exports to China, while currently expected to be very similar to last year's levels, could easily grow in response to greater Chinese demand, Bailey said.
China was the world's largest consumer of chicken and the world's third-largest producer.
Since it depended predominantly on domestic production to meet consumer needs, its poultry imports were small.
As pork consumption declined because of consumer concerns over domestic pork quality and higher prices, chicken consumption could increase - at least in poorer areas, it was believed.
The potential for an increase in sheep meat or beef consumption, as a substitute for the reduced availability and higher prices for pork, was also an outcome seen by some analysts.
The possible increase in demand for beef and lamb was expected to be seen in more urban and wealthier areas.
In its latest market update, Silver Fern Farms said Chinese demand and prices for beef remained firm.
Continued reports of reducing pork supplies and positive effects on protein demand and price remained.
China was lifting imports for all proteins - chicken, pork beef and sheep meat - to maintain price stability.
Chicken volumes could be lifted quickly, given its short life cycle, and would see most benefit in the short term.
Rabobank's latest Agribusiness Monthly report said growing demand from China resulted in it overtaking the US as New Zealand's largest export market during the first four months of the 2018-19 season (October to January).
China accounted for 33 per cent of New Zealand's total beef export receipts over the period, while the US accounted for 30 per cent.