U.S. pork exports rose 8% the first quarter of 2012 by volume (657,864 tons) and were 20% higher in value at $1.66 billion than last year’s record pace, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

However, March pork export volume of 218,869 tons was 8% lower than a year ago, but 6% higher than February 2012. Export value at $570.5 million was 3% higher than last year and up 8% from the previous month.

These results were led by excellent growth in the China/Hong Kong region and by strong performance in Mexico, Japan and Canada.

“A 20% increase in pork export value for the first quarter is extraordinary, especially considering the record performance of last year,” remarks USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng.

Pork export value in March on a per-head-slaughtered basis set a new monthly record at $59.92. This was nearly $4 higher than a year ago, and surpasses the previous high of $59.53 set in November 2011. Exports equaled 27.8% of total U.S. production of muscle cuts plus variety meat, and represented 24% of production when including muscle cuts only.

Mexico remains the market leader for U.S. pork exports sold on a volume basis, with first quarter exports up 17% in both volume (178,993 tons) and value ($299.7 million).

Exports to Japan in the first quarter were up just 1% in volume (135,189 tons), but also reached a 17% increase in value at $530.6 million.

Exports to the China/Hong Kong region soared in the first quarter, 30% higher at 127,206 tons, and surged 82% in value to $234.9 million.

Exports to Canada jumped by 26% in volume (61,508 tons) and were one-third higher in value at nearly $200 million.

More trade results can be found at www.UMMEF.org.