U.S. pork export sales in January well-exceeded year ago levels, but fell short of totals from the previous month, according to statistics released by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Pork exports totaled 181,652 tons valued at $396.9 million – an increase of 15% in volume and 19% in value over January 2010.

“Despite some significant market access issues – some ongoing and some new – our exports performed quite well in January,” says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “U.S. meat products continue to command excellent prices throughout the world, which is providing a boost for the American producer and the entire meat industry.”

Japan continued its record-breaking performance of 2010, when it purchased more than $1.6 billion in U.S. pork. Pork export sales to Japan in January totaled 39,342 tons valued at $133.5 million, an increase of 28% in volume and 24% in value over a year ago.

“Our team in Japan is continuing to launch new initiatives, including a new pork butt promotion aimed at educating consumers about the quality and versatility of this cut, to help keep this momentum going throughout the year,” Seng says.

January exports to China were also strong, ringing in at 21,284 tons valued at $29.1 million. The volume total is approximately 90% of that achieved in January 2008. The Chinese market was closed to U.S. pork exports in January 2009 due to concerns over H1N1 flu.

Widespread culling of swine in South Korea due to the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak is creating a need for more imported pork. U.S. pork exports to South Korea were up 128% in volume (14,501 tons) and 163% in value ($32.1 million) compared to January 2010.

Sales to Honduras and Guatemala showed solid gains with Honduras up 20% in volume at 1,933 tons and nearly 40% in value ($3.9 million), and Guatemala up 41% in volume (751 tons) and 29% in value ($1.5 million).

“The Central American markets show a lot of potential,” Seng says. “They don’t have the established retail and foodservice infrastructure that we see in markets like Japan, South Korea and Mexico so the volumes are much smaller, but they are growing markets where we are working with importers and buyers to educate them about the quality and value of U.S. products.”

Pork exports to the Australia/New Zealand region were stable in volume at 4,763 tons, but rose by 46% in value to $13.7 million. New Zealand showed more strength with exports more than doubling in volume and jumping 154% in value.

Mexico’s purchases cooled somewhat in January with 55,163 tons valued at $86.9 million, lower than January 2010 but still higher in value than the 2010 monthly average.

The ASEAN region posted a decline of 30% in volume and 26% in value as exports dipped to the three top markets of the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.

“The FMD situation in Korea has created a clear need for imported pork, and China also has challenges in its domestic pork production,” Seng says. “As for Japan, the range of products we are successfully marketing there just continues to grow. With regard to Mexico, we are hopeful January was just a speed bump for a very red-hot market. If the retaliatory tariffs from the North American Free Trade Agreement trucking dispute are eliminated soon, this will help U.S. pork regain its momentum in Mexico.”

Complete export statistics are available at www.USMEF.org.