Crucially the pork went directly by road, through the border post of Raohe, 17km from the Siberian towns of Lermontovka and Bikin. "This cuts the transit time to 24 hours from factory to the Russian destination… previously it could take up to two weeks to go through," said a CIQ statement. This is a reference to previous attempts to export Chinese pork which went by rail and sea. It is unclear who purchased the pork: requests for comment from CIQ and Shuanghui were not immediately responded to.
While Sino-Russian political relations have warmed considerably, a weaker rouble and a strengthening renminbi have made Russia a less attractive export destination for Chinese meat firms and other manufacturers. Transport conditions in sparsely populated Siberia have also been an issue. Yet China wants to increase the number of plants eligible to ship to Russia from the current two (both of them Shuanghui plants) to 10 by the end of 2015. Among the firms seeking entry to Russia are major players Delisi and Jinluo, both based in Shandong province, much further away from the Russian border than Wangkui.
While China’s 2015 exports are forecast to hit 300,000 tons, up 9% from 2014, according to projection by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) the bulk of that figure goes to Hong Kong. Securing access to the Russian export market may be only part of the strategy, however: Russia is a bridge to other countries that are part of the Eurasian Customs Union (which Russia has established with Belarus, Kazakhstan) and this would facilitate pork exports to political allies like Belarus, which has already bought small quantities of Chinese pork, suggested a major agribusiness figure in Heilongjiang.
"Ultimately, China’s expertise in pork production and farming will see Chinese firms producing in Russia for Eurasian Customs Union markets," said Li Demin, chairman of Huaxin Group, which farms in Siberia. Li is part of the Russia Agricultural Industry Alliance, established two years ago as a collective of 66 Chinese companies farming in Russia, where land rents are 75% cheaper than farmland in more populous China. He explained there were now more than 300 Chinese projects in Russia producing grains, meat and vegetables with the help of machinery and thousands of workers from China.