There are larger export markets for American pork than Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), but few have inspired U.S. pork industry creativity quite as much as the Land Down Under.

Not so long ago (2003), Oceania was closed to U.S. pork.  In 2012, regulatory restrictions continue to limit U.S. exports to cooked and processed products and chilled/frozen pork shipped directly to designated cooking facilities.  Despite that, the region has emerged as a promising market.

U.S. pork exports to Oceania hit an all-time high last year of 70,765 metric tons (156 million pounds) valued at just under $225 million. That’s an increase of more than one-third in value over 2010 (a 70% increase since 2009), making Oceania the No. 7 market for U.S. pork by value and No. 8 by volume.

While Australia accounts for most of the U.S. pork destined for the region, New Zealand is a growing market. Through June 2012, pork exports to New Zealand are 29% ahead of last year’s pace in volume (4,463 metric tons or 9.8 million pounds) and 27% higher in value ($13.4 million).

However, Oceania’s limiting of imports to pork for further processing – unless it’s precooked – has been an effective protectionist measure.

Undaunted, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) has worked with U.S. processors and exporters to explore the “cooked” product category of higher-priced, value-added items.  While still a small segment, cooked products have provided a window into the retail sector.  Precooked American boneless loins, for example, are finding a growing audience at retail outlets in Oceania.

U.S. pork was showcased recently as USMEF participated in Fine Food New Zealand, the country’s largest international food, retail and hospitality trade show.  This was only the second trade show of its kind in New Zealand since the inaugural one in 2010.  This year’s event attracted more than 300 exhibitors and 6,000 visitors from 30 countries, including the United States, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, China, Thailand and Vietnam.

USMEF-ASEAN Director Sabrina Yin, who represented U.S. pork at Fine Food New Zealand, noted that it was an excellent opportunity to communicate with foodservice operators, retailers and distributors, as well as the traders and processors they often work with in this market.

Prospective customers at Fine Food New Zealand were treated to samples of a wide range of cooked American pork, including precooked bacon, bone-in ham, spiral-cut ham, shredded barbecue pork, roast pork loin, boneless hickory-smoked pork ribs and pork baby back ribs.  The response was enthusiastic.

While expanded access for U.S. pork is still a sensitive topic in Oceania, there is solid potential for growth in New Zealand.  Last year, New Zealand officials decided to modify the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)-related requirements for imported chilled/frozen pork from the United States, Canada, European Union and Mexico, proposing to allow imports of consumer-ready, unprocessed pork cuts in packages of three kilograms or less. The decision was made over strong opposition from the local pork industry, which continues to fight for its reversal. An appellate court in New Zealand recently upheld the proposed change, but the New Zealand Pork Industry Board filed an additional appeal that is expected to be heard in November.

If New Zealand ultimately modifies its import requirements, there will be a solid opportunity to introduce a wider range of pork products while continuing to aggressively market the cooked and processed pork items that have already gained popularity there.