September 18, 2019 / 8:10 AM / a month ago

Thai chicken sales to China rocket as African swine fever triggers switch away from pork

* Jan-Jul poultry exports to China 33,500 T vs 4,100 T yr ago-assn

* Prices ranged from $4,000-$5,000 per tonne - assn

* Thailand regained access to Chinese poultry market in March 2018

By Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Thai poultry exports to China have surged eight-fold this year as an outbreak of deadly African swine fever in the world’s biggest consumer of pork stokes a rush to source alternative meat supplies, a Thai industry association said on Wednesday.

The disease, nearly 100% fatal to pigs and highly contagious with no vaccine though not harmful to humans, has wiped out nearly 40% of the pig herd in China since the first outbreak in August 2018. The virus has since spread across Asia, with South Korea the latest country affected.

“We exported 33,500 tonnes (to China) in the first seven months of this year, up from 4,100 tonnes last year,” Kukrit Arepagorn, manager of the Thai Broiler Processing Exporters Association, told Reuters.

Demand for Thai poultry could potentially grow further, even after the surge of more than 700% with prices ranging from $4,000 to $5,000 per tonne, Kukrit said: Seven factories in Thailand currently sell to China, he said, with buyers inspecting additional plants that could increase sales.

The association’s members, which include CP Foods Pcl , Betagro Pcl and privately owned Cargill as members, operate a total of 20 factories.

Though still dwarfed by the scale of China’s market, imports from suppliers including Brazil have jumped. Imports of chicken in July were 68,221 tonnes, up 39% from a year ago, according to Chinese customs data.

Kukrit noted Thailand only regained meat export access to the Chinese market in March 2018, having been barred since 2004 because of bird flu outbreaks.

“At first Chinese customers were not familiar with Thai products, but later realised it was good quality and wanted more,” Kukrit said.

The boost from the Chinese market pushed overall exports to growth of 9.8% in the January-July period versus the same period a year earlier, Kukrit said. Japan remains the leading importer of Thai poultry shipments, accounting for about half of total overseas sales or 400,000 tonnes per year. (Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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