(Bloomberg) -- Sign up for Next China, a weekly email on where the nation stands now and where it's going next.

Chinese pork imports jumped 75% to a record in 2019 as the government sought to curb prices after African swine fever ravaged herds. Soybean purchases from overseas held steady.

  • Imports of U.S. pork and soybeans increased notably in December in the runup to a phase-one trade deal between the two nations, according to customs. The agreement is due to be signed on Jan. 15.
  • China imported 88.5 million tons of soybeans last year, just 0.5% higher than 2018, according to customs data released on Tuesday. The nation shipped in 2.1 million tons of pork, the data show.
  • Inbound soybean shipments in December were 9.5 million tons, the highest level since May 2018.

Key Insights

  • The Asian country has been battling African swine fever as well as trying to negotiate a trade deal with the U.S.
  • The virus has slashed hog numbers, reducing demand for feed, and therefore soybean meal, which is produced by crushing beans. That has also spurred more pork imports.
  • China may increase purchases of American farm products this year after signing the trade deal, which is expected to include a pledge to buy $40 billion a year of agricultural goods.
  • China has been issuing regular tariff waivers for domestic firms to buy U.S. soybeans. The exemptions cover the 30% retaliatory duties on the oilseed, which buyers process into edible oil and animal feed.
  • The country is reviewing applications for tariff exemptions on U.S. goods worth $60 billion, according to the government.
  • China may boost imports of American soybeans in the first quarter of the year before South American supplies peak.
  • African swine fever will cap soybean imports in 2020, and probably keep overseas pork purchases at a historically high level.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alfred Cang in Singapore at acang@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski at akwiatkowsk2@bloomberg.net, James Poole

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.