Bogota, Colombia – President Ivan Duque believes Colombia may be able to fill the void created by African swine fever (ASF) in China. He is in Beijing meeting with Chinese business leaders, and on Wednesday, he will meet President Xi Jinping. Duque wants to boost trade and encourage China to buy more of Colombia’s agricultural products.
During his four-day visit, Duque aims to convince the Chinese leader that Colombia can meet China’s increasing demand for beef – and its need for cheaper sources of pork. Currently, about 85 percent of Colombian exports to China are fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil.
“The potential is enormous,” Juvenal Infante, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at Universidad Sergio Arboleda, told Al Jazeera.
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Infante – who takes Colombian academics, policymakers and others on an annual university-sponsored trip to China – says the visit comes at a perfect time for the two countries. He believes the president’s trip is helpful at this moment “because one of the serious shortcomings we have [in] developing greater business relations with China is mutual ignorance”.
Colombian livestock breeders, in particular, are eager to understand the Chinese market better and supply China, which has the world’s second-largest economy. Chinese pork prices recently hit record highs due to a severe outbreak of ASF.
“The market is large, and there is room for everyone.” Jaime Suarez, executive director of the Colombian Chinese Chamber of Investment and Trade, told Al Jazeera from Shanghai. He is confident there is strong Chinese demand for beef and pork. Suarez is part of the South American nation’s delegation. Colombian producers “are ready,” he says, but “Chinese authorities grant the permits. President [Duque’s] visit undoubtedly helps greatly accelerate the [permit] process”.
Chinese demand for pork
Financial services company Rabobank says it will take years for Chinese pork producers to recover from the outbreak of ASF.
“China’s herd rebuilding will be slow and take years,” said Rabobank analysts in an April report. “Producers remain cautious given the risk of recontamination and are focused on improving biosecurity at remaining operations. Government support for rebuilding cannot convince producers who will, in the end, carry the bulk of the risk.”
“Since its discovery in August 2018, ASF has spread to every province in mainland China. With ASF now affecting an estimated 150-200 million pigs, the expected 30 percent loss in pork production is nearly 30 percent larger than annual US pork production and equivalent to Europe’s annual pork supply,” the report added.
Colombia’s pork meat production reached about 409,000 tonnes in 2018, according to the Colombian National Fund for Pig Farming (Pork Colombia). Demand from China could help strengthen the industry.
First avocados, then meat
“We are betting on opening new markets. Our bet is to export avocado[s] to China this year and in two years meat, because we see great commercial opportunities in this country of 1.3 billion inhabitants who demand products from the agricultural sector,” said the Colombian Minister of Agriculture, Andres Valencia Pinzon, in a statement in advance of the trip.
ASF is impacting the eating habits of the Chinese, who are turning to beef to mitigate the effect of rising pork prices. Colombia, which has the fourth-largest cattle industry in Latin America, is eager to supply China with beef.
“The truth is that the future of beef is in China, not only because of its pork calamity but because of the structural potential of its economy,” said Jose Felix Lafaurie, president of Fedegan, Colombia’s National Federation of Cattle Ranchers.
Lafaurie regrets that out of the 1,039 million tonnes of beef imported by China in 2018, more than half was produced by Latin America, but none came from Colombia. This, he says, is about to change when the country is recertified as being free of foot-and-mouth disease, probably in September.
Duque is optimistic about the future of the meat trade between Colombia and China.
“We also talked about the path that must be opened for the export of meat, pork, and beef, from Colombia to China. I think that dialogue began,” he said after a lunch in Shanghai on Monday with the Communist Party Secretary of Shanghai, Li Qiang.
Colombian government data show its exports to China totalled $4.1bn in 2018, about 10 percent of the country’s sales abroad.