U.S. pork exports continued their upward spiral, with an increase of 41% in the first quarter of 2008, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

“We’re seeing continued strong performance in both sectors (pork and beef),” says Erin Daley, USMEF manager of research and analysis. “The weak U.S. dollar is certainly a factor, and gains are being made despite the growing shortage of shipping containers to take our exports to overseas markets.”

Pork exports for the first quarter totaled 807.7 million pounds, 39% above the first quarter of 2007. When combined with 193.2 million pounds of pork variety meats (up 54%), the U.S. pork industry sold 1 billion pounds valued at more than $1 billion to international markets.

March 2008 exports of 329.3 million pounds were second only to the monthly record set in February 2008.

Japan resumed its number 1 ranking as volume and value market leader for U.S. pork products, with exports up 11% in the first quarter: 233.2 million pounds sold for $336.6 million. March exports to Japan rose by 24% compared to 2007, setting a new monthly record at 90 million pounds.

At the same time, Japan’s pork imports from the European Union (EU) (primarily Denmark) fell 20%. Daley says this trend is expected to continue as Danish hog numbers have fallen 10.4% in April. Danish pork producers are losing about $72/hog slaughtered, mainly due to high feed prices, according to the European Market Survey.

U.S. pork exports to China and Hong Kong worth $170 million totaled 225.9 million pounds – 280% more than the first quarter of 2007. March exports were 61.1 million pounds, compared to 16.8 million pounds in March 2007, but down from the record 90.1 million pounds set in February 2008.

Chinese statistics indicate the United States was the largest pork supplier during the first quarter, followed by the European Union (primarily France and Denmark) and Canada.

U.S. quarterly pork exports to Mexico rebounded 3% from last year’s levels to 173.3 million lb., valued at $123 million, while quarterly shipments to Canada were 22% higher at 88.1 million pounds.

U.S. pork exports of 87.8 million pounds to Russia during the quarter soared 142% higher, including 15.8 million pounds of variety meat. At the same time, Russia banned pork imports from Canada, delisted a number of EU plants and, most recently, delisted four U.S. plants. Brazil’s exports to Russia declined 17%.

Sales of pork to South Korea rose 1% in the first quarter to 77.7 million pounds worth $72 million.

Another monthly record was set in U.S. pork exports with 10.1 million pounds shipped to the Asian countries of Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, with 22.3 million pounds exported ($17.6 million) for the first quarter, an increase of 239%.

Exports to the EU increased 80% to 18.6 million pounds ($22 million), primarily destined for France, Germany and Britain.