United Kingdom pork exports to China are rising rapidly, according to new trade data, as Chinese farmers continue to contend with outbreaks of African swine fever virus.

Customs figures released by the UK government show that exports of British pork to China rose 150 percent by volume in October compared to the same month last year. This trend contributed to a 20 percent increase in total UK pork exports over the period.

According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, this year outbreaks of African swine fever caused a shortage of 10 million tons, or around 20 percent of China’s total pork output.

Overseas pork suppliers have been given greater market access in order to boost imports. More than 1,000 pork suppliers have registered with the Ministry of Commerce in 2018, an increase of 30 percent on the previous year.

In October, UK processors Quality Pork and Tulip were granted approval to export 50 metric tons of pork a week to China from their jointly-run plant in Brechin, Scotland, bringing the total number of UK plants with export approval to nine.

Andrew Saunders, agricultural director at Tulip, said that the company has increased sales to China by around 80 percent this year compared with 2018. Saunders told CNBC he expects this trend to continue into 2020.

Chinese imports of pork are likely to increase significantly in the lead-up to the Spring Festival holiday period in late January.

This month, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs released a pork action plan, in which it predicted that Chinese pork production will begin to approach normal levels by the end of next year, and make a complete recovery by 2021.

According to UK customs figures, exports of UK pork to China were up 77 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2018. China is now the single biggest export partner for UK pork, accounting for one-fifth of exports by volume.

China is helping to offset dampened domestic demand for pork in the UK, where retail sales declined by 4 percent in volume and 3 percent in spend over the summer.

A 2018 report by supermarket chain Waitrose found that one-third of Britons have reduced their meat consumption, mainly due to animal welfare, environmental and health concerns.

The UK National Pig Association says that a healthy trading relationship with China is “vital” for the British pig sector, as it may lessen any negative effects of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The UK currently sends 55 percent of its pork exports tariff-free to EU nations, and it remains unclear if and how Brexit will impact this trade.

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