British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association


Pork exports have been steadily increasing over recent years. They have grown by over 50,000 tonnes since 2010, and have increased from 21 per cent to 26 per cent of production, with further rises expected.

Domestic demand is strong for loin and leg cuts, in particular, so exports mainly aim to find better markets for other products, which have a higher value overseas than in the UK. These markets also help to reduce the volume of waste, by taking products for which there is little or no value in the UK, such as offal.

Offal exports have more than doubled over the same time period, assisted by improved market access outside the EU. Offal exports were almost 59,000 tonnes in 2015 versus 28,000 tonnes in 2010, and these exports in particular are a crucial part of obtaining full value for the carcase.

The value of UK fresh and frozen pork exports in 2015 was £197 million. This was a decline on the previous two years, which highlighted the global pressure on pig prices since late 2014. Much of this pressure was caused by global over-supply, with the Russian import ban exacerbating this. In contrast, the value of offal exports was more than double 2010 values, at over £38 million in 2015.

In 2015, 70 per cent of UK pork exports went to fellow EU Member States. Germany and Ireland were the main destinations for UK pork. Denmark and the Netherlands were also major recipients but much of this pork is thought to be for re-export to third countries, partly reflecting the EU ownership of some UK processors.

The UK is a net importer of pig meat, currently importing around 60 per cent of all the pork it consumes.

Shipments to Germany are predominantly of sow meat; the vast majority of UK sow meat is exported, as there is little domestic demand for products containing it. Exports to China accounted for 15 per cent of all pork shipments in 2015, and have grown significantly throughout 2016. Shipments to the United States grew sharply through 2015 and 2016 and the expansion of this market creates more value, due to the higher-value cuts involved.

The UK is a net importer of pig meat, currently importing around 60 per cent of all the pork it consumes. The volume of these imports stood at 968,000 tonnes in 2015. Import levels have fluctuated slightly over recent years – since falling back in 2012, they have been increasing steadily year on year. Denmark is the dominant supplier, accounting for over a quarter of all UK pork imports. Together with Germany and the Netherlands, they account for 60 per cent of imports. The EU supplies virtually all the pork imported into the UK, due to the high import tariffs on pork from elsewhere.

On top of this, the UK imports substantial quantities of bacon, gammon, ham, sausages and other processed pig meat products. These are mostly derived from cuts for which domestic demand exceeds supply.

Tariffs and trade barriers

There is a lot of talk around at the moment about Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), as if they are automatically a good thing.  However, there does need to be caution as we do not want the UK flooded with meat from other countries that is either not as well produced as UK meat or simply swamps the market with the concomitant negative impact on British farmers and meat processors. 

Almost all pig meat imports into the EU, with the exception of offal, are subject to sizeable import tariffs. They range from €172 to €1,494 per tonne, depending on the cut. The high level of tariffs effectively mean that most non-EU pork is uncompetitive on the EU market, even though production costs and wholesale prices are lower in other exporting countries such as the United States, Canada and Brazil.

None of the existing EU FTAs is significant for UK pork exports, though both South Korea and Vietnam are potential future markets. However, negotiations have been completed or are underway with all the major pork exporters, Canada, the US and Brazil (part of the Mercosur trade bloc). These may result in these countries gaining increased access to the EU market once agreements have been ratified.

The main non-tariff barriers limiting access to the EU market are sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. There is a range of such requirements but perhaps the most significant is the widespread use of the EU-banned growth hormone Ractopamine, especially among producers from the United States. This would probably limit imports to a large extent, even if tariffs were removed, although the level of hormone-free production is rising.

The Russian ban on EU pigmeat has had a negative impact on price as global demand has fallen with the expected impact on price.

Articles All articles

Union Jack flag behind a wire fence

Borders / 19 Apr /

Technology / 12 Apr /

variety of healthy food types

07 Mar /

Sheep in a pasture

Sheep / 08 Feb /