Global pork suppliers are looking  to fill China's shortage, and it appears that opportunity will last for at least 18 months. However, Bi Jingquan, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, told  Xinhua News Agency that widespread pork imports are unlikely.

China's herd has been reduced significantly due to increased mortality associated with blue-ear disease, which has plagued the country for at least 2 years, according to reports. "Since the number of piglets depends on the number of sows in stock, it could take about a year and a half for piglets to grow into sows, which in turn will bear more piglets for sale," says Bi.

As for increasing imports to satisfy China's hungry pork appetite, he says, "Few countries would satisfy China's demand if the world's largest pork producer were to import 1 million tons of pork or more from overseas every year." Bi points out that China's pork output in 2006 was 52 million tons last -- more than half of the world's total.

Still at issue is China's zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine, which is cited as one reason the country isn't in the market for more U.S. pork. Last month, Smithfield Foods' signed off on an agreement with a Chinese trading company to have 60 million pounds of pork from hogs that had not been fed ractopamine. The delivery timeline is by late December.