The restructuring of the Chinese pig industry was a major driver behind this import boom. Most of the growth occurred at the beginning of the year, according to the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) China, with shipments in the final quarter of the year up 32% on the year.
"However, it is worth noting volumes were already elevated in Q4 of 2015 and last year's figures still represented more than double the volume imported during this period of 2014," said Bethan Wilkins, analyst at AHDB Pork.
"The EU was the main winner in capitalising on this market, supplying two-thirds of the imported product. This was particularly true early in 2016, driven by plentiful supplies, competitive prices and hormone-free production systems. However, as the year progressed, the EU lost market share to the increasing supplies of price-competitive US pork. Brazil also proved to be an emerging threat as, after gaining increasing access to China, it became its eighth-largest pork supplier last year."
The UK's exports volumes of pigmeat to China rose 31% on 2015 levels, reaching 43,000t. Increased pig prices in China allowed average unit prices to rise. Value of these imports were ahead of volume, reaching almost £50m.
Meanwhile, offal imports were up almost three-quarters, at 72% above year earlier levels, reaching 1.3m t. This growth remained relatively consistent throughout the year. Although the European Union was the dominant supplier - at over 50% of the market share - growth in shipments from the US were significant. Coming in at 424,000t, shipments from America trebled figures from 2015. As supplies of competitive US product increased, so did imports.
"Offal shipments from the UK were also up 32% for the year as a whole, exceeding 28,000t," explained Wilkins. "However, during the final quarter, volumes were actually back 9% on 2015. This was influenced by increasing competition from US product and falling product within the UK."
For the coming year, there are expectations that Chinese domestic production will increase, subsequently decreasing the demand for imported products. This could become a concern for the global market, due to China's role in being an important outlet against a lacklustre of demand for pigmeat from the EU and US.
"Ultimately, unless alternative markets can be found, a fall in demand from China could begin to put pressure on global pork prices this year, particularly in light of the expansion in US production."