U.S. pork exports set another record last year, increasing for the 14th consecutive year, according to the National Pork Board.

Exports totaled more than 1.02 million metric tons (1 metric ton equals 1.1 U.S. short tons), a 35% increase over 2003, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The value of those exports climbed 41% to more than $2.2 billion, a new record.

That points to great opportunities and growth for the U.S. pork trade, but that potential is not without challenges, explains U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Philip Seng.

Challenges come from growing competition in export markets, the uncertainty of commodity checkoff programs that help fund trade projects and non-standardized trading principles.

“Free trade agreements can be positive in opening markets, but they can also be negative because they provide exclusive access for specific countries,” says Seng.

Competition is intensifying in key export markets. Twenty countries now vie for the pork trade in Japan, compared to four countries 20 years ago. Canada and Denmark are the top two U.S. competitors in the Japanese market.

USMEF helps increase the value and profitability of U.S. pork by creating global demand for the product. This is done through training and education of chefs in international markets and educating consumers on the safety, versatility and nutritional value of U.S. pork.