U.S. pork exports finished the first quarter with a flourish as new record volume was set in March, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation earlier this month.
Pork exports reached 227,955 metric tons (mt) in March, up 16 percent year-over-year and topping the previous monthly high set in November 2016. Export value was $586.6 million, up 22 percent. For the first quarter, pork exports were up 17 percent in volume (627,647 mt) and 22 percent in value ($1.58 billion).
March exports accounted for 28 percent of total pork production and 23.3 percent for muscle cuts only, up from 25.4 percent and 22 percent, respectively, last year. First-quarter ratios also were significantly higher at 27.2 percent and 22.6 percent, compared to 23.9 percent and 20 percent in 2016. Export value per hog slaughtered averaged $54.93 in March, up 15 percent year-over-year, while the first-quarter average increased 18 percent to $52.42.
The year began with record-large pork production and this “wall of U.S. meat” presented a challenge for our industry, said USMEF President/CEO Philip Seng.
“So, the fact that first-quarter export volumes are higher than a year ago is not surprising, but it’s important to look beyond that—to the higher percentage of production being exported and the strong return on those exports,” Seng said. “The U.S. is not just moving more meat internationally because we have more available. Our products are commanding solid prices and winning back market share in many key destinations, even with a strong U.S. dollar and many trade barriers still in place. But our competitors are working every day to reverse this trend, so we must aggressively expand and defend our international customer base.”
Mexico, Korea and South America fuel record pork export volume
The red-hot pace for U.S. pork exports to Mexico continued in March, with volume up 34 percent year-over-year to 68,866 mt, and value increasing 47 percent to $127.2 million. For the first quarter, exports to Mexico totaled 206,262 mt (up 29%) valued at $371.9 million (up 42%). Strong demand from Mexico is especially important for U.S. ham prices, but pork variety meat exports to Mexico also posted a strong first quarter, increasing 14 percent in volume (37,596 mt) and 38 percent in value ($58.1 million).
In Japan, the leading value market for pork, March exports increased modestly in volume (37,806 mt, up 2%) but climbed 12 percent in value to $155.2 million–the highest since October 2014. In the first quarter, export volume to Japan was up 7 percent in volume (101,581 mt) and 13 percent in value ($411.3 million). Chilled pork exports to Japan increased 3 percent to 56,307 metric tons, while value increased 10 percent to $260 million.
Other first-quarter highlights (compared to year-ago levels) for U.S. pork included:
- Strong variety meat demand in China/Hong Kong helped drive exports to the region 5 percent higher in volume (131,036 mt) and 11 percent higher in value ($258.8 million). While muscle cut exports slowed, variety meat volume climbed 24 percent (to 86,097 mt) and value increased 29 percent to $176.2 million, making an important contribution to per-head value.
- Since posting a slow start in 2016, pork exports to South Korea have steadily regained momentum as exports totaled 51,158 mt (up 31%) valued at $137 million (up 39%). Most U.S. pork now enters Korea duty-free under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which has helped boost volumes of raw material for further processing, as well as processed pork products.
- Another major market rebounding from last year’s slow start is Colombia, where U.S. pork also benefits from lower tariffs secured in a recent free trade agreement. First quarter exports to Colombia doubled from a year ago in both volume (16,532 mt) and value ($36.5 million). Bolstered by a near-doubling of exports to Chile and Peru, first-quarter pork exports to South America were up 95 percent in volume (23,838 mt) and 94 percent in value ($57 million).
- In Australia, an important market for U.S. hams and other cuts utilized in further processing, exports increased 38 percent in volume to 20,607 mt, while export value climbed 43 percent to $57.7 million.
- Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat, unless otherwise noted.
- One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.