Trends In The Global Animal Product Trade, 2000-2018
Animal product trade accounts for a significant portion of international trade and includes a wide range of goods such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Worldwide trade is growing, partially because Asian countries are consuming more animal products. However, domestic production in China is unable to meet this increasing demand, creating trade opportunities for many regions, including the E.U., to fill the gap.
This study presents data from 2000 to 2018 on trends in the international trade of animal products across top exporting and importing countries, including the role of the E.U., focusing on bird meat, pig meat, cow meat, and dairy products.
Internationally, 16% of the trade of food produced on farms is comprised of animal products. Trade in animal products was worth €152 billion in 2018, almost triple its value in 2000. In 2018, 52% of animal product trade was meat, 32% was dairy products, 5% was live animals, and 11% was other animal products. The top five exporters were the E.U., the U.S., New Zealand, Brazil, and Australia. The top two importing countries were China and Japan. Together, these six countries and the E.U. make up 67% of world exports and 44% of world imports of animal products.
The European Union is the world’s largest exporter of animal products. Farmed animals account for 40% of the E.U.’s agricultural production, supported by significant subsidies for animal farmers. The E.U. exports far more animal products than it imports. It has been producing more animal products while demand for meat has remained stable or even decreased, because the population has remained stable and many individuals have been reducing their meat consumption. By far the E.U.’s largest customer is China, which imports a quarter of the E.U.’s exports.
Many countries outside the E.U. export a large volume of animal products. The United States, with its large agricultural area, is a big exporter of most animal products. What’s more, the U.S. government heavily subsidizes animal agriculture, and the U.S. exports mainly to countries it has favorable trade deals with, such as Mexico, Canada, and Japan. The U.S. imports mainly from Canada, the E.U., and Mexico.
Because 90% of New Zealand’s agricultural land is grassland and it has long prioritized trade with other countries, most of New Zealand’s animal agriculture is cows and sheep, which make up 70% of its farm-grown food exports. It exports dairy, sheep meat, and beef to China, the E.U., U.S., Australia, and Japan — while importing very few animal products. Brazil exports cow and bird meat to China, the E.U., and Saudi Arabia, and imports very few animal products, mostly dairy from neighboring countries. Australia, which has a low population and a lot of arable land, exports cow, sheep, and goat meat as well as dairy, mostly to countries in Asia, while importing very little.
China imports more animal products than any other country. As China gets richer, its population consumes more animal products. It has relatively little arable land for its population and tends to prioritize plant agriculture over animal agriculture. China’s animal product exports are low and mainly consist of bird meat exported to neighboring countries. The E.U. is China’s largest supplier of animal products. Meanwhile, Japan imports a lot of animal products because it has limited agricultural land and it can only produce 40% of its food needs. The E.U. is Japan’s main supplier of pig meat and dairy products.
Bird meat is the most consumed and produced meat in the world, with global production on average of 125 million tons annually between 2017 to 2019. The U.S., China, and Brazil are the top three producers and Brazil the leading exporter. Japan, the E.U., and China are the top importers. Pig meat exports have increased, with the E.U., U.S., and Canada being the top exporters. World pork production from 2017-2019 was 116 million tons per year, on average, with production expected to grow another 11.1 million tons by 2029. China is the second-largest importer of pig meat, and the E.U., U.S., Brazil, and Canada are the main suppliers.
Beef and veal are the most valuable categories of meat (€34.9 billion). From 2019 to 2029, worldwide production is expected to increase by 6.3 million tons. The U.S., Brazil, and the E.U. are the top producers; Brazil, India, Australia, and the U.S. are the top exporters; China, the U.S., and Vietnam are the top importers. Milk production worldwide has increased greatly, growing from 344 billion liters in 1961 to 839 billion (averaged between 2017 and 2018), because we’ve bred cows that produce more milk. Dairy product trade is growing at an average annual rate of 2%, with cheeses, infant milk powder, and whole milk powder being the most traded products.
Despite the expected slower growth of global demand for animal products, future demand will still increase due to population growth and rising consumption of animal products. Global meat production is expected to grow another 12% between 2019 and 2029, which is a staggering increase of 40 million tons, half from poultry meat. Dairy production is anticipated to grow by 16%.
Understanding the global market in animal products is important for advocates, who can target welfare reforms at countries that produce a large amount of animal products. Conversely, countries that consume a high volume of animal products are better targets for vegan and vegetarian advocacy. International trade agreements shape the global market in animal products, and animal advocates can influence the deals people make. As meat production grows in the future — especially production of particularly harmful products like chicken meat — farmed animal advocacy becomes even more pressing.