In the UK House of Commons on October 21, MP Dave Doogan (SNP) asked the UK Secretary of State for International Trade the following question about UK pork exports to China: "What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect on trade of the suspension of export licences for UK pork processing plants trading with China."

The UK Under-Secretary of State for International Trade answered as part of the following exchange:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mr Ranil Jayawardena)

I am grateful for the question. This issue has affected pork exporters in many countries. To my knowledge, three British businesses are affected. In the 12 months to August 2021, British pig meat exports to China decreased by 3,642 tonnes, which is down 2.1%. The value of pig meat exported to China over the same period increased by £12.6 million, however, which is up 4.6%.

Dave Doogan

I am afraid it does appear that almost every single UK Government Department is trying to undermine the UK pig sector, and nowhere is that more keenly felt than in Brechin in my constituency. The Secretary of State said earlier to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) that DEFRA will be supplying us with an answer to the China exports crisis. DEFRA is impotent; this is a trade issue. What is the Department for International Trade going to do about the crisis in exports to China?

Mr Jayawardena

I appreciate the strength of the hon. Member’s conviction in this area, but I come back to the core answer, which is that Her Majesty’s Government will work in every possible way we can to resolve such issues. Ministers have raised this issue with Chinese counterparts, and this Department continues to press the Chinese authorities for a swift resolution. We are working very closely with affected British pork processing plants. I would just make the point to him that we are very clear-eyed on our trade relationship with China. We have no plans to negotiate a trade deal, but we believe that more trade with our trading partners around the world, including China, is important, so we are working very closely on this.

China suspended UK pork exports from certain factories in June of 2020 due to coronavirus outbreaks in those factories. In April of 2021, a Chinese official stated that: “There is evidence that the virus could stay alive in low-temperature environments. We would rather overreact, than not reacting, when it comes to virus prevention.” “We will lift the import curb when there is sufficient evidence that the pandemic is under full control in the UK. There is no sign that has happened,” according to the official.

China had previously halted some pork exports from other countries, including Brazil, the Netherlands, and Germany, on the same grounds. So far, some restrictions have been lifted (link in Chinese) but pork exports from Germany are still suspended.

China is a world leading pork importer and consumer. It experienced a pork shortage over the past couple years, partially due to the African swine fever outbreak in 2018. After business investment and government support poured into the industry, the price of pork has dropped sharply in China this year.