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19 junio 2024

Aragon, on the rise in meat exports, with destinations such as China, Italy and Japan

If we look back a few years, the picture of meat sector exports has changed, and a lot, in Aragon. In 2016, foreign sales in this sector amounted to almost 622 million euros, but the growth of pork has allowed that, just over five years later, they have closed 2022 with just over 1,716 million euros. That is, a 176% increase.

The sale to the foreign market of pork – fresh, chilled or frozen – achieved great growth in 2019 and in 2020, the year in which the ceiling of 1,300 million euros was broken. This figure has continued to be exceeded in 2021 and 2022, but already with a more sustained growth. With the most recent data provided by the Government of Aragon, relating to last year, pork exports accounted for 1,347 million euros, an amount very similar to that of 2020, which was a record year for this type of product.

Pork accounted for 78.5% of the economic weight of meat exports in 2022, although we must not forget other subsectors such as bovine, which accounted for 7.9%, while edible offal of species such as sheep, swine, cattle or goats reached 8.9%.

In fact, as pointed out to Go Aragón by the Director General of Agrifood Promotion and Innovation of the Government of Aragón, Carmen Urbano, the meat industry in the Community has developed greatly in recent years and, “as processing has grown tremendously, so have sales”.

“Meat is a market that has a very large diversification, we work with large volumes and we are large producers, with the main producer groups in Aragon,” she points out in reference to a sector in which pork stands out, but which also has a great importance in bovine or beef.


XVI edition of FIGAN 2023. Photo: LUIS CORREAS Government of Aragon
China, Italy and Japan, at the top of the ranking of Aragonese meat importers.

In the same dynamic of recent years, China continues to be the main importing country of Aragonese beef, with a value of 280 million euros in 2022. A figure that has increased notably with respect to that of five years ago, when it barely exceeded 100 million euros. At that time, Italy topped the ranking, followed by China, with France and Portugal in third and fourth place.

Now, the Asian giant is the leading power, followed by Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, France, South Korea, Portugal, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. In this five-year period, the growing interest in Aragonese products from Japan and Poland is striking, as well as from other countries that have entered the top 10, such as South Korea and the Philippines.

China, Japan and Poland, at the head of pork imports

If we zoom in on pork alone, the countries most interested in the product are China, Japan, Poland, Romania, Italy, South Korea, France, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. While Asia is the major importer of frozen pork, the list of fresh or refrigerated pork is headed by European territories such as Poland, Romania, France and Italy.

In the words of the head of Agri-Food Promotion and Innovation, everything points to the fact that the meat sector will continue to be “a very export-oriented sector”. “When you produce more, you have to sell more, and the domestic market is what it is; therefore, I foresee that export growth will be sustained and sustainable”, explains Urbano, who also emphasizes the diversification of the sector, which is going to different countries.

As he points out, especially in the wake of the pandemic, large pork companies have diversified their risk and have found alternative markets outside China, since “you can’t have all your eggs in one basket”.

“China has brought about a very important growth in the whole industry and all sales because of its animal health problem, but you have to have other alternatives,” he says about African swine fever, which between mid-2018 and 2019 killed tens of millions of pigs in the Asian country. As Urbano stresses, companies “have done their homework and diversified their markets.”

The presence of Japan, an exponent of the quality of Aragonese produce

One example is the presence of Japan as an important player on the board of meat exports. In the words of the general manager, this country “is a very serious, professional and mature market”. “Selling to Japan is an exponent of the quality of our product and of the companies. Not just anyone goes to the antipodes to sell, especially not to Japan, which is a very demanding market”.


PDO Teruel Ham. Photo: DOP Jamón de Teruel.
Precisely, quality is one of the attributes that is appreciated abroad: “In Aragón we have Designations of Origin or Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) that are pioneering and unique in Spain and, therefore, in Europe,” he says. And he mentions here the Teruel Ham as the first Denomination of Origin for ham, the Ternasco de Aragón as the first PGI for fresh meat and, now, the first PGI for pork in Spain with that of Teruel. “In other words, we are a power in the meat industry, in branding, in competitiveness and in exports,” concludes Urbano, who emphasizes that our territory is home to the main food groups in the meat sector, not only in pork.

The meat complex: a weighty factor in Aragon’s GDP

The meat complex (livestock, cereals and fodder, feed, meat industry, logistics and services) accounts for between 6 and 7% of Aragon’s GDP and total employment. As indicated by the regional government, intensive livestock farming in the Community has 6,992 farms with a total of 1.34 million livestock units (UGM). Pigs and cattle fattening concentrate slightly more than 89% of the farms and 89% of the heads of cattle.

According to the Aragonese Executive, intensive livestock farming, together with irrigation, form the fundamental basis of the agro-industry of the territory and of its growth, both in terms of sales (61%) and exports (277%) and employment (31%), which is expected to exceed 35,000 direct jobs in the coming years.

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