The continuing spread of African swine fever through China's pig population has the potential to reshape global beef markets, Rabobank's latest beef quarterly report says.
There had been more than 60 confirmed cases up to November 19, scattered across all the major pork-producing provinces and resulting in increased slaughter, transport bans and volatile prices.
While the majority of cases involved small-sized farms, several larger-scale farms had also been affected.
"Given the sheer size of production and the fragmented structure, it will be a great challenge for China to control the disease in the coming year," the report said.
Rabobank Dunedin-based animal proteins analyst Blake Holgate said Chinese pork consumption was expected to drop, giving rise to increases in the consumption and importing of other animal proteins, including eggs, poultry, beef, mutton and seafood.
Poultry would probably benefit the most as it was already the major substitute for pork, particularly in meat processing and catering, the report said.
While beef was not a major substitute, the pork supply shortage in China would likely push up consumption.
"Given China is already an important and growing importer of beef, depending on how pork production and prices develop, there could be increased demand from China for beef imports over the coming months," Holgate said.
New Zealand beef prices had dropped consistently since mid-September on declining demand from the United States.
Rabobank expected prices to face further downward pressure for the remainder of the year and into early 2019 as the New Zealand cattle slaughter began to gain pace against the backdrop of weaker US demand.
To limit the extent of any price declines, exporters would be looking to redirect increasing volumes of product into China where the short to medium demand outlook remained positive.
However, there remained limited market opportunities for New Zealand's bull beef product outside of the US, the report said.