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U.S. pork exports celebrate record pace in 2019

Checkoff focusing on aggressive growth strategies in 2020.

U.S. pork exports finished 2019 on a high note, setting new records for both value and volume, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). For the year, 5.89 billion lb. of U.S. pork and pork variety meats valued at $6.952 billion were exported to countries around the world, up 10% and 9%, respectively, from 2018.

Pork exports accounted for 26.9% of total 2019 U.S. pork production. Export value per head averaged $53.51, up 4% from 2018.

“China was the main driver for the record-breaking pace of U.S. pork exports in 2019,” said National Pork Board (NPB) president David Newman, a pig farmer representing Arkansas. “We are poised to help fill China’s protein gap caused by the country’s African swine fever (ASF) outbreak, but we’re also focused on recapturing lost market share with key customers and investing in research to develop emerging markets.”

While exports to China were higher in 2019, key U.S. pork customers, including Japan (number one in value) and Mexico (number one in volume), saw significant declines as the U.S. worked to negotiate new trade deals with each country.

Japan has historically been the leading market for U.S. pork in terms of value as well as the leading destination for U.S. chilled (never frozen) pork loins. In 2019, the U.S. held 46% of Japan’s market for chilled pork, down from 70% in 2017, according to Norman Bessac, NPB vice president of international marketing.

“With Japan as the most important U.S. market, the pork checkoff has brought key stakeholders and thought leaders together on a task force to lead marketing efforts there,” Bessac said. “The checkoff investment in the task force and subsequent programs, promotions and educational events will help build Japan’s confidence in U.S. pork and allow exporters to recapture lost market share.”

Mexico remains the top market for U.S. pork by volume, accounting for more than 1.56 billion lb. of pork and pork variety meat exports in 2019.

“The majority of pork and pork variety meat exported to Mexico is bone-in hams,” Bessac said. “This is a great market, but there’s an opportunity to expand the product mix and to add value for U.S. pig farmers.”

Recently, the pork checkoff secured grant funds through the Foreign Agricultural Service's Quality Samples Program and the Emerging Markets Program to help customers in Mexico develop new uses for pork loins. A new task force will provide the checkoff and USMEF with insight as they use the grant and other programs to diversify U.S. pork exports to Mexico.

Building on the success of the pork checkoff report “Pork 2040: China Market Assessment,” a new research and market study focusing on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, specifically Vietnam and the Philippines, will be conducted and released this year.

“The pork checkoff is committed to adding value for pork producers,” Newman said. “Aggressive marketing strategies in both developed and emerging markets will position U.S. pork to do just that.”

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