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Slump Continues for US Pork Exports

by 5m Editor
14 August 2009, at 11:16am

US - The lingering global economic slump and low prices for domestic beef and pork products in key export markets contributed to a decline in US pork exports in June, according to statistics compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Through the first six months of the year, 2009 is still shaping up as the second-best year for US pork exports, but it remains 9 per cent behind 2008 in terms of volume and 7 per cent in value. Thus far in 2009, the US has exported 925,339 metric tons (more than 2 billion pounds) of pork and pork variety meat valued at nearly $2.2 billion.

Compared to export totals in June of 2008 – the second-highest single month totals in history – combined pork and pork variety meat exports were down 31 per cent in June of 2009, totaling 133,594 metric tons (294.5 million pounds) valued at $320.4 million.

"The H1N1 influenza virus has been an important factor for US pork exports," said Jon Caspers, USMEF chairman and a pork producer from Swaledale, Iowa. "We have had market access issues in two of our top six pork export markets (China and Russia), which makes it all the more important to maintain a strong presence in our other key markets."

To ensure that US red meat products maintain a high profile in key markets, USMEF is employing a variety of tactics to support beef and pork exports.

"In challenging economic conditions like these, there is no one silver bullet that will drive exports, so we are looking at a whole spectrum of marketing and education programs that can be tailored to the specific market," said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. "For example, we are taking the American Beef Club concept popularized in Russia and the European Union and introducing it in the Philippines. We are conducting pork cooking competitions at four-star hotels in Japan. We are training chefs in Cambodia, conducting junior chef competitions in the Middle East and providing instruction to meat buyers in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam."

In the No. 1 market for US pork exports, Mexico, USMEF recently conducted an extensive training program for personnel in the hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) sector to familiarize them with US red meat. Mexico has rebounded well from its experience with the flu virus, and US pork exports there are up 52 per cent in volume to 248,694 metric tons (658.5 million pounds) for the first half of 2009. The value of those exports is up 37 per cent to $369.6 million. In June of 2009 versus one year ago, pork exports were up 22 per cent in volume but slipped 4.3 per cent in value as consumers continue to look for more affordable menu options.

The United States’ No. 2 pork market, Japan, also is up for the first half of the year. Volumes rose 1 per cent to 223,290 metric tons (492.3 million pounds) while the value of those exports is up 13 per cent to $808 million. For the month of June, export volumes to Japan dipped 13.5 per cent versus a year ago while the value of the exports slipped just under 6 per cent.

On the flip side, exports to the No. 3 market, the greater China/Hong Kong region, are off just over half for the year, dropping 52 per cent in volume (to 121,412 metric tons or 267.7 million pounds) and 54 per cent in value to $203.3 million. Russia, the No. 6 pork export market, has seen volumes drop 35 per cent to 60,826 metric tons (134.1 million pounds). The value of pork exports to Russia is down 37 per cent compared to the first half of 2008, reaching $123.9 million.

The story is not the same for exports of pork muscle cuts and variety meat in the first half of 2009 versus 2008: pork variety meat exports are up 27 per cent in volume to 245,984 metric tons (542.3 million pounds), and the value of those exports is up 29 per cent to $379.2 million. At the same time, the market for pork muscle cuts is down 18 per cent in volume to 679,355 metric tons (nearly 1.5 billion pounds) valued at almost $1.8 billion, a 12 per cent decline.