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U.S. pork exports to China/Hong Kong soaring

Total pork exports see best month on record in November due to ASF and improved trade relations.

The impact of African swine fever (ASF) on China is beginning to show up in a big way, as demand from China/Hong Kong drove U.S. pork export growth to the best month on record in November, easily reaching new highs in both volume and value. New data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) showed that export volume to China/Hong Kong rose 284% from a year ago to 86,213 metric tons, and value rose 240% to $204.9 million. For January through November, exports to the region were up 71% to 554,789 mt, with value up 49% to $1.18 billion.

USMEF reported that total pork exports surged to 259,812 mt in November, up 26% year over year and 11% above the previous high set in July 2019. Export value was $712.7 million, up 32% from a year ago and breaking the previous record (also from July 2019) by 14%. These results pushed January-to-November exports 7% above the previous year's pace in volume to 2.39 million mt and 6% higher in value to $6.19 billion. Pork exports are now on pace to exceed previous records for both volume (2.45 million mt in 2017) and value ($6.65 billion in 2014), USMEF noted.

Further, pork export value per head slaughtered was $62.90 in November, up 29% from a year ago and the highest in five years. Per-head value averaged $52.24 through the first 11 months of 2019, a 2% increase year over year. USMEF reported that November exports accounted for 29.7% of total pork production and 26.8% for muscle cuts only, up substantially from 24.5% and 22%, respectively, a year ago. For January through November, exports accounted for 26.4% of total pork production and 23% for muscle cuts, up from 22.4% and 25.7%, respectively, a year ago.

Although November pork export volume to Mexico was lower than a year ago, down 6% to 57,537 mt, USMEF noted that export value increased 28% to $124.3 million, the highest since July. For January through November, exports to Mexico were down 11% from a year ago in volume to 641,952 mt and were 6% lower in value at $1.14 billion.

USMEF said competition from Canadian pork was especially strong in the Mexican market while Canada was suspended from China's market from late June to early November. From January through November, Canada's exports to Mexico increased 8% from a year ago to 128,100 mt, with value up 14% to $185 million.

"While the surge in pork shipments to China will capture most of the headlines this month, it is equally encouraging to see export value to Mexico make such a strong recovery," USMEF president and chief executive officer Dan Halstrom said. "Getting exports to Mexico back to the record levels of 2017 and early 2018 is a top priority for the U.S. pork industry, because demand from Mexico is such an important driver of profitability for everyone in the supply chain. The same is true in Japan, so it's very important to reclaim lost share in these longtime mainstay markets."

According to the latest numbers, November exports to Japan trailed the previous year by 3% at 32,594 mt, while value was down 1% to $136.5 million. Through the first 11 months of the year, exports to Japan were down 6% from a year ago in volume to 340,568 mt) and 7% lower in value at $1.4 billion.

Japanese import data show that imports of U.S. pork decreased by $121 million, with much of the decline for ground seasoned pork, which fell by $73 million due to the wide tariff rate discrepancy. Beginning Jan. 1, Japan's tariff rates on U.S. pork and pork products were lowered to match those imposed on European, Canadian and Mexican pork, which USMEF said eliminated a significant price disadvantage that slowed U.S. exports in 2019. The rate for U.S. ground seasoned pork fell from 20% to 13.3%.

Other highlights for January-to-November U.S. pork exports included:

  • Exports to Colombia rebounded in November to pull 9% ahead of the previous year's pace in volume at 92,280 mt and were 7% higher in value at $203.6 million. Also bolstered by strong growth in Chile and Peru, exports to South America already surpassed previous full-year records in both volume, up 18% year over year to 141,657 mt, and value, up 22% to $356.2 million.
  • Led by strong growth in Panama, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, exports to Central America also set new annual records, with volume up 16% to 86,794 mt and value up 20% to $211.8 million.
  • Surging demand in Australia and New Zealand pushed exports to Oceania to new heights. Exports to the region jumped 36% from a year ago in both volume, at 105,399 mt, and value, at $304.5 million.
  • Exports to Canada increased 6% from a year ago in both volume, at 197,847 mt, and value, at $738.2 million.
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