China is a major player in the word beef industry in terms of production, consumption and, in recent years, trade.
Unprecedented economic growth, industrialisation and urbanisation have reduced incentives for small-holders to raise cattle, who have not responded to higher prices, especially in the cow-calf sector. Bovine numbers have declined to 1990 levels of 100 million, but beef cattle production has become more commercialised and beef production has increased to 6.7 million tonnes.
Domestic production has been outstripped by higher consumption, which led to price increases of 21% per year between 2010 and 2013.
From a low base, imports increased in 2013-14 to around 300,000 tonnes of beef per year through formal channels, about one million tonnes through informal channels, and perhaps 70,000 tonnes in the form of live cattle in the border trade.
Consumption may have slowed over recent years due to tighter regulations on banqueting, prices have levelled off, and China has taken measures to increase imports and diversify import channels.
The Chinese domestic industry is becoming more segmented and specialised although there are constraints, especially in the viability of higher cost structures, and over-capacity of feedlots and modern abattoirs due to limited cattle supply and higher cost structures.