April exports of U.S. pork were sharply higher than a year ago in both volume and value, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork exports set a new volume record, fueled by tremendous demand in Mexico.
April pork export volume was 230,049 metric tons (mt), up 13 percent from a year ago and topping the previous high set in November 2016. April export value was $584.1 million, also up 13 percent. For January through April, pork export volume was 4 percent ahead of last year’s record pace at 866,346 mt, while value increased 9 percent to $2.29 billion. (For pork muscle cuts, excluding variety meat, April was also a record volume month at 184,487 mt, up 18 percent from a year ago. Muscle cut export value was $480.6 million, up 14 percent.)
Exports accounted for nearly 30 percent of total pork production in April, up from 28.4 percent a year ago, while the percentage of muscle cuts exported also increased significantly (25.8 percent, up from 23.5 percent). Through April, the percentage of total production exported was fairly steady with last year at 27.4 percent, while muscle cuts jumped from 22.8 percent to 23.5 percent.
April pork export value averaged $58.45 per head slaughtered, up 6 percent from a year ago, while the January-April average increased 5 percent to $55.69.
Huge month for pork to Mexico; exports to Korea continued to surge
Mexico was again the pacesetter for pork exports in April, with volume reaching 79,019 mt – up 34 percent from a year ago and the second-largest on record. Export value to Mexico was $134.1 million, up 28 percent. Through the first four months of 2018, exports to Mexico were 7 percent above last year’s record volume pace at 282,675 mt, with value up 6 percent to $505.4 million.
Maintaining this pace will be challenging, however, with Mexico announcing retaliatory tariffs on imports of most U.S. pork products effective June 5. The tariff rate on chilled and frozen pork muscle cuts is 10 percent until July 5, when it is set to increase to 20 percent.
“The outstanding April performance for pork exports to Mexico really underscores the importance of this market to the U.S. industry and how it has been such a reliable trading partner for hams, picnics and other pork cuts,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “USMEF will continue to emphasize the quality and consistency of U.S. pork to red meat customers in Mexico and make every effort to help U.S. suppliers retain their business. But make no mistake about it, the U.S. industry is going to have to fend off competitors who suddenly have a significant tariff rate advantage and see a clear opening into the Mexican market.”
Pork exports to South Korea continued to build momentum in April, with volume (25,370 mt, up 74 percent) and value ($74.1 million, up 81%) increasing significantly from a year ago. Through April, exports to Korea are on a record pace, climbing 44 percent in volume to 94,888 mt, valued at $276.1 million (up 55%). Strong growth in consumer demand and duty-free access under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) have fueled a rapidly expanding presence for U.S. pork in Korea.
While pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region were below year-ago levels in April, shipments remained relatively strong despite the additional 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork that took effect April 2. It is likely, however, that the trade impact will show up more dramatically in May export data and in coming months. The tariff increase essentially tripled China’s standard rate on frozen pork imports, taking it from 12 percent to 37 percent (the increase does not apply to Hong Kong, which still charges zero duty). April exports to China/Hong Kong were 41,567 mt, down 14 percent from a year ago, but slipped only slightly in value to $95.9 million. For January through April, exports to China/Hong Kong were 15 percent below last year’s pace in volume (153,248 mt) but steady in value at $356.6 million.
“It is encouraging to see that pork volumes to China/Hong Kong held up fairly well in April, but the tariff disadvantage is still having a negative impact on the U.S. industry and has pressured prices for key export items,” Halstrom noted. “It’s another situation in which our competitors are capitalizing on the extra cost associated with importing U.S. pork.”
For January through April, other highlights for U.S. pork include:
- Exports to leading value market Japan were 1 percent below last year’s pace in volume (132,534 mt) but increased 1 percent in value ($544.8 million). This included a 5 percent decrease in chilled pork volume (68,532 mt), valued at $330 million (down 1%).
- Strong growth in Colombia pushed pork exports to South America up 23 percent from a year ago in volume (39,520 mt) and 24 percent in value ($96.7 million).
- Led by mainstay markets Honduras and Guatemala and sharply higher shipments to Panama, exports to Central America climbed 23 percent from a year ago in volume (26,459 mt) and 27 percent in value ($63.3 million).
- Pork exports achieved solid growth in the Philippines and more than doubled from a year ago to Vietnam, as exports to the ASEAN region increased 20 percent in volume (15,435 mt) and 31 percent in value ($43.8 million).
- Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat, unless otherwise noted.
- One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.