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China's Pork Imports Surge in May, Near 3-Year High

BEIJING, June 24 (Reuters) - China's pork imports surged nearly 63% in May from the same month last year, customs data showed on Sunday, as the world's top consumer of the meat stocked up on supplies ahead of an anticipated shortage.

May imports came in at 187,459 tonnes, the largest volume since 192,348 tonnes in August 2016, according to the data. <CNC-PORK-IMP>

The increase comes as African swine fever continues to infect pigs across China, producer of half the world's hogs, leading to a sharp fall in the size of its herd.

China's pork prices rose rapidly in the first-half of March, triggering large purchases of meat from overseas markets, including the United States.

Prices have since stabilised, with importers and traders saying demand in recent weeks for imported frozen pork has been very weak amid plentiful supplies of fresh pork from farmers slaughtering their herds as the disease reaches new areas.

Demand is likely to pick up again in coming months, however. Beijing said earlier this month that the country's sow herd fell by 23.9% in May from a year earlier, a huge drop that will create a significant decline in output.

Analysts at Rabobank said in April that China's pork output could fall to just 38 million tonnes in 2019, versus 54 million tonnes last year.

Imports would be capped at about 4 million tonnes, they said, based on available world supplies.

China's imports in the first five months to May came to 658,236 tonnes, up 19.8% on the same period a year ago.

Despite the expected demand, China has stepped up inspections on meat imports, and recently blocked three Canadian pork exporters from its market.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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