A record-setting year makes 2011 a hard act to follow, but January pork exports started things off right as shipments jumped 28% in volume and 43% in value, according to USDA data analyzed by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

“There is a challenge to follow a very successful year like 2011 and sustain the momentum,” says Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “The good news is that there are opportunities to expand the presence of U.S. red meat by exploring new market niches as well as increasing access with several key trading partners.”

For pork, January export value added $59.44/head of commercial slaughter compared to $43.59 a year ago and 29.6% of total production (including variety meat) was exported that month vs. 24.2% last year. For just muscle cuts, 25% of production was exported in January compared to 20% a year ago, according to USMEF.

For the month, the United States exported 232,603 tons of pork valued at $566.9 million. In 2011, U.S. pork exports reached nearly 2.5 million tons valued at more than $6.1 billion.

“In some markets, such as Japan, we are reaching into new secondary markets and niches like the sozai (deli) segment,” Seng says. “In others, like South Korea, we’re focused on sustaining the progress we made last year and preparing for the imminent implementation of the Korea-U.S. FTA. Korea has made significant progress in rebuilding their hog inventories so we expect total imports to decrease this year but the United States will also gain a competitive edge against other suppliers through the FTA.”