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US Pork Export on Winning Streak for 17 Years

by 5m Editor
12 February 2009, at 8:10am

US - The international marketplace continued to roll out the red carpet for US pork, beef and lamb products in 2008, recording double-digit increases for all over 2007 levels, according to statistics released by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Pork has been the pacesetter for US red meat exports, achieving a 17th consecutive record-setting year of increased export numbers in 2008. For the month of December, total pork (pork plus variety meat) export volumes rose 19.7 per cent over 2007 while export values rose 19.2 per cent. While those are healthy gains, they are dwarfed by the 12-month figures for 2008: volume up 57 per cent to more than 2 million metric tons (4.5 billion pounds) and value up 55 per cent to nearly $4.9 billion.

While there are ups and downs on a country-by-country basis, the key export markets for US red meat continue to perform fairly consistently, according to USMEF Economist Erin Daley.

Ms Daley noted that Mexico, the largest US pork market in December, set a monthly record with 48,151 metric tons (106.2 million pounds) valued at $77 million. This represents a jump of 16 per cent in volume over the prior month and a 77 per cent increase over the previous December. For the year, Mexico was the third-largest destination for US pork, registering a 43 per cent hike in pork volume (396,609 metric tons or 874.4 million pounds) and a 54 per cent jump in value (to $691 million).

The largest market for US pork, Japan reported substantial gains for December and the entire year: achieving 16 and 28 per cent gains in volume and value, respectively, for the month versus December of 2007, and 26 per cent and 34 per cent in volume and value for the year. Japan imported 451,853 metric tons (996.2 million pounds) of pork valued at $1.5 billion – accounting for 31.6 per cent of total US pork export value in 2008.

Areas of concern

While the numbers tell a great story, Ms Daley notes that there are areas of concern for exports driven by the global economic slide.

"With 35 US pork facilities delisted, exports to Russia could face a rough start in 2009, not to mention the challenging economic situation and the devaluation of the ruble," she said. The only good news is that Russia increased the United States’ tariff rate quota (TRQ) from 50,700 metric tons (111.8 million pounds) to 100,000 metric tons (220.5 million pounds) for 2009 – allowing an additional 49,300 metric tons (108.7 million pounds) to enter at 15 per cent duty instead of the over-quota rate of up to 75 per cent (not less than 1.5 euro/kg).

Still, for the year US pork exports to Russia reached 217,767 metric tons (480.1 million pounds) valued at $476 million, increases of 118 per cent in volume and 130 per cent in value over 2007. In December, both the volume and value of pork exports was down sharply from one year ago, reaching the lowest volume levels since December 2006.

China is another area that bears watching, Ms Daley believes. The greater China/Hong Kong region emerged as the No. 2 market for US pork in 2008, purchasing 399,562 metric tons (880.9 million pounds) valued at $689.4 million – increases of 136 per cent in volume and 155 per cent in value over 2007.

However, Ms Daley believes it is unlikely that China's pork imports in 2009 will match last year's record. Increased industry profitability last spring, coupled with a range of hog raising subsidies, is supporting a substantial expansion of China's herd and lower hog and pork prices.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, by the end of the third quarter of 2008, China's live hog inventory had increased 6.6 per cent from the year-earlier figure, and the sow population increased 12.4 per cent. Total marketed hogs increased 5.8 per cent and meat production was up approximately 6 per cent.

Pork Export Facts

  • During 2008, 24.4 per cent of US pork production (including variety meat) was exported. This compares to 16.5 per cent in 2007.

  • The value of exports per head slaughtered equated to $42.31 compared to $29.16 in 2007.

Other pork highlights

  • Canada - US pork imports remained fairly close to year-ago levels during the last quarter of 2008, with December exports at 13,390 metric tons (29.5 million pounds). For the year, exports were up 15 per cent to 170,536 metric tons (nearly 376 million pounds) valued at $557.6 million, a 13 per cent increase.
    • "Imports of Canadian hogs were down 50 per cent in January, with a corresponding increase in Canadian slaughter (up 15.8 per cent) and pork production (up 9.9 per cent)," Ms Daley noted. "Live hog trade has been impacted by the weak Canadian dollar, making production in Canada more competitive."


  • South Korea – Imports were steady in December at 10,535 metric tons (23.2 million pounds). Although below year-ago levels, this volume was not far off the 2008 monthly average of 11,128 metric tons (24.5 million pounds). For the year, exports to Korea were up 34 per cent to 133,532 metric tons (294.4 million pounds) valued at $284.5 million, up 23 per cent versus 2007 totals.