Bank Puts Top Economist On Leave Over 'Chinese Pig' Comments

Global investment bank and financial services provider UBS has placed one of its leading economists on leave after comments he made sparked outrage in China and calls for a boycott.

Paul Donovan, chief economist of the Swiss bank’s global wealth management department, received immediate backlash after his comments on pork prices in China were labelled "distasteful and racist."

In a podcast on Wednesday, the British economist said that higher consumer prices due to sickness among pigs would matter to a Chinese pig.

“Does it matter? It matters if you are a Chinese pig. It matters if you like eating pork in China,” he said.

Some people slammed Donovan's comments after interpreting them as a reference to people rather than livestock, while others threatened to boycott the bank altogether.

Paul Donovan pictured at a conference in 2012. PHOTO: Getty Images

UBS issued an apology over the comments and took down the transcript of the podcast which had been posted to its official website.

The bank said Donovan's comments were about inflation and a rise in Chinese consumer prices due to higher pork prices.

African swine fever, an incurable disease deadly to pigs, has been ravaging herds across Asia since last year.

China has reported more than 120 outbreaks since it was first detected in the country in August,

Thousands of infected pigs forced to be slaughtered across the country with rising concerns about the impact on the meat and dairy industry and exports.

“We apologise unreservedly for any misunderstanding caused by these innocently intended comments by Paul Donovan,” UBS said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The bank also said it was enhancing its “internal processes” to avoid any recurrence and it remained fully committed to investing in China.

UBS headquarters in Zurich. PHOTO: Getty Images

Donovan who has since been asked by the bank to take a leave of absence while the matter was reviewed, issued an "unreserved apology" on his podcast.

"I apologise to anyone who took any offence from my remarks which were clearly not intended to offend," Donovan later said in an interview with Bloomberg.

"I got it wrong. I made a mistake and I unwittingly used hugely culturally insensitive language."

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But the apology was not seen as enough by some in the financial industry in China, with the nation's securities association telling its members to stop quoting  Donovan’s research and not to invite him to events, Reuters reported.

With Reuters.