In the Chinese zodiac, the last official “year of the pig” ended in early 2008, which was a record-setting year for U.S. pork exports. Based on the latest export numbers, however, 2011 will have to be considered as America’s “year of the export pig.”

November was yet another record-setting month for U.S. pork exports, boosting totals for the first 11 months of 2011 to more than $5.5 billion. This marked the first time U.S. pork export value has topped $5 billion in a single year, according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Total pork exports (muscle cuts plus variety meat) in November were 217,080 metric tons (478.6 million pounds) valued at $597.8 million. This equated to nearly 29% of overall pork production and resulted in a per-head export value of $59.98, another new record.

The resurgence of the China/Hong Kong market was a major contributor to November’s totals. More than 30% of all U.S. pork exports for the month went to China/Hong Kong, which bought a record 66,993 metric tons (147.7 million pounds) valued at $140.2 million – an increase of 138.7% in volume and 209% increase in value over last year. For the year, China/Hong Kong is the No. 3 export market for U.S. pork, buying 428,683 metric tons (945.1 million pounds) valued at $794.6 million.

Japan also continues to demonstrate that it is not a saturated market. For the year, Japan remains the value leader in U.S. pork purchases, buying 451,509 metric tons (995.4 million pounds) valued at nearly $1.8 billion, increases of 14% in volume and 19% in value vs. 2010.

Yet another Asian market, South Korea, continues to increase in value. Exports there have benefited from a domestic pork shortage brought on by a severe foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak. They climbed 61.8% in volume to 11,673 metric tons (12,840 tons)in November, while the value jumped 119% to $35.6 million. For the year, volume totals are up 126% to 172,791 metric tons (380.9 million pounds) valued at $453.7 million, a 176% hike.

The coming year will be an interesting one in Korea as that nation’s pork industry works toward rebuilding its domestic swine herd, which lost three million head to FMD, roughly one-third of its total production. At the same time, the new Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will take effect, which will begin the process of eliminating tariffs of between 22.5% and 25% on U.S. pork imports over the next few years, making U.S. products even more competitive.

USMEF is working aggressively in South Korea in anticipation of the new FTA and the balancing push by the domestic industry to regain lost market share. In addition to ongoing marketing and promotion programs, which include outreach to food bloggers who have as many as 10,000 readers per day, USMEF is coordinating face-to-face meetings between pork buyers across the spectrum of Korean foodservice and retail industries and their U.S. exporter counterparts to help foster relationships that can grow as opportunities develop.

Not to be forgotten, Mexico is the No. 1 importer of U.S. pork by volume and No. 2 by value. While exports slipped 12% in volume and a fraction of a percent in value in November, they remain steady for the year. Through November, Mexico has purchased 477,221 metric tons (just over 1 billion pounds) of pork valued at $925.3 million – a 3% dip in volume, but a 4% increase in value compared to 2010.

The nearly $60/head return on exports in November was a $15 increase over last year’s total. For the first 11 months of 2011, the value of U.S. pork exports has averaged $55.21/head with more than 27% of all pork production exported. This compares to $43.72/head and 23.7% of production in 2010.

Even as we wait for the December reports, pork export records have been set in Japan, South Korea, China/Hong Kong, Canada, Central/South America and Australia/New Zealand. When the December numbers are tallied, we anticipate U.S. pork exports will be flirting with the $6 billion mark, more than $1 billion higher than the previous record of $4.884 billion set in 2008 – the last Year of the Pig.

Jim Herlihy
Vice President of Communications
U.S. Meat Export Federation
jherlihy@usmef.org
www.usmef.org