SHANGHAI – Sellers, consumers and restaurants in China are suffering the consequences of a significant rise in the prices of pork, one of the country’s staple foods, whose cost has doubled in the last year due to several factors that have taken inflation to its highest level in years.
The trade war between China and the United States as well as swine fever – which led to the culling of 200 million pigs – have not only been making headlines but also affected the lives of millions of people such as Hu Fulan, who runs a meat stall in Jing’an, a Shanghai neighborhood.
“The situation is affecting my business a lot. Many people can no longer afford to buy pork or they buy very little and we are losing customers,” she told EFE.
She has been working as a meat vendor for over 10 years and has never witnessed a situation like this before.
“I make almost no profits now. This stall costs me between 40,000 to 50,000 yuan (around $5,700 to $7,100) each year,” she said.
According to the latest statistics published on Saturday by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the price of pork in October went up by 101.3 percent year-on-year and the consumer price index (CPI) soared to 3.8 percent, the largest increase since January 2012.
Pork is the primary source of protein for the Chinese, who consume half of the world’s supply of this commodity that has the biggest impact on the CPI.
“China’s economic structure is still unbalanced and it is subjected to what we called external shocks,” Xu Bin, an economics professor at the China Europe International Business School, told EFE.
“This time it has a lot to do with the China-US conflict, in which China significantly reduced the import of pork and other food items from the US.”
However, he pointed out that it would be temporary as the market takes time to adjust.
“Agricultural complexities are very sensitive and always have a cycle. When the prices are low, farmers will produce less, then prices go up and farmers produce normally (…) It is an issue but I wouldn’t be worried that much, it takes time for the market to respond,” Xu added.
Some media reports and experts have said the biggest social crises in the country in recent decades were related to food prices.
The Communist Party of China came to power in the 1940s partly because hyperinflation had eroded support for nationalist rulers, and high prices were also a contributing factor in the student-led pro-democracy Tiananmen protests in 1989.
“But I think the situation has changed so much in the 21st century, and I think Chinese people now are very accustomed to market price fluctuation (…) Chinese people are fine with this price, it is not that it is in double digits. They can diversify the food and eat other meat,” Xu added.
Li, a 70-year-old housewife and customer at Hu’s stall, agreed.
“The market has many offers, if the price of one product has gone up, we can buy another,” she said.
Both women believe that the prices are likely to reduce during the Chinese New Year at the end of January, an opinion also shared by Yan Hongfen, who owns a restaurant that makes dumplings mostly stuffed with pork.
“The piglets will grow by that time and there will be more supply in the market,” Yan said.
Since sales during the Chinese New Year are traditionally very high, producers calculate the demand beforehand to be prepared for it.
Yan is yet another example of those affected due to the price surge. “Earlier, I used to pay 200 yuan for the quantity of pork I needed, but now I have to pay almost 500. I am losing money in my business,” she told EFE.
However, she has not increased the prices of the dishes. “I am waiting until the Chinese New Year. If by then (pork) prices have not gone down, I will increase the prices of my dishes.”
The government has assured that measures are being undertaken to ensure the supply of pork and stabilize prices and has used food reserves and sought supplies from external sources.
According to official reports, pork imports went up to 1.33 million tons during the first nine months of the year, a year-on-year increase of 43.6 percent.