(Adds detail on imports, quotes)
BEIJING, Aug 29 (Reuters) - China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday it will seek to boost pork imports and also release frozen pork, beef and mutton from state reserves in “due course” to increase the supply of meat in the market.
The comments come as pork prices in the world’s top consumer of the meat hit a record after an epidemic of African swine fever swept through the country’s pig herd, killing millions.
The country’s hog herd has shrunk by almost a third since a year ago, according to official data, and pork prices have soared since June.
Imports of the meat are already up 36% in the first seven months of this year, and analysts expect them to double from 2018 levels in 2020.
“We will...continue to encourage the expansion of pork imports,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters at a regular briefing.
Beijing has agreed to start importing pork from Argentina this year, and is also expected to approve additional plants for export from Brazil and Britain.
Gao also said China will release meat from its reserves to stabilise supplies.
China often releases some of its meat from storage when prices are high, or during high demand periods such as the weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, the country’s biggest festival.
It released 9,600 tonnes of reserve pork this January, according to state media reports. But while total volumes held by the country are not known, analysts say they are unlikely to be significant enough to have a real influence on market supplies.
“The government wants to support the market but this is more of a political gesture,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.
“They may call for other players to follow them,” she added, referring to slaughterhouses or cold storage facilities with stocks of frozen pork.
Pork retail prices jumped 7.8% in the week to Aug. 14, hitting 32.4 yuan per kilogram, data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs showed, almost 50% higher than at the same time a year ago.
China’s cabinet has called for measures to support a recovery in production. (Reporting by Stella Qiu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue, Rashmi Aich and Deepa Babington)