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China’s protein imports propel reefer market

China is the main factor behind a 7% increase in demand for reefer container transport this year.

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Ronald Veldman from Seabury Consulting addressing the Cool Logistics conference.
Ronald Veldman from Seabury Consulting addressing the Cool Logistics conference.

At least that is the view of Ronald Veldman, a leading consultant at Seabury Consulting. Addressing the 11th Cool Logistics Global conference in Valencia, the analyst said that year-to-date growth in refrigerated cargo volumes was largely attributable to action in China.


He told delegates: “Containerised perishable trade volumes have grown 7% this year on the back of strong demand for fresh and frozen foods into China. This compares with just 1% growth in the dry freight container business.”


Specifically, he referred to the strong demand for frozen products, primarily meat. “Year-to-date 84,000 TEU of frozen meat has been shipped in containers and over 60,000 TEU of this has been imported into China. Local production has been devastated by the outbreak of African swine fever with estimates suggesting that 30% of China’s output could be affected. In volume terms, that’s equivalent to three times the containerised trade in pork in 2018.”


Veldman pointed to growth rates in exports of pork from Europe, Canada and Latin America to China, year-to-date, of 26%, 68% and 27%, respectively, but said the US had lost out as tariffs had risen by 72%.


The consultant also said that beef and poultry imports into China were increasing as a consequence of regulatory changes, rising levels of disposable income and changing diets. “Since import restrictions on beef were lifted in 2017, monthly cargo volumes have jumped from 9,000 TEU to 13,000 TEU a month. China now accounts for 25% of the world’s containerised trade in beef.


When it comes to poultry Veldman said that suppliers in the Asia-Pacific region and Brazil were benefitting the most, with US farmers again losing out as a consequence of the US/China trade war.


“Year-to-date, poultry imports from Asia Pacific and Brazil have leapt by 58% and 10%, respectively, and trends suggest the strong market will continue,” he said.


Overall, Veldman predicts a positive outlook for the containerised trade in perishable products in the medium term.

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