Through the first four months of the year, U.S. pork exports stand 6 percent higher than last year in volume (781,676 metric tons) and 16 percent higher in value ($2.17 billion), according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

April pork exports notched a slight increase in volume (183,618 metric tons) from a year ago and were 4 percent higher in value ($509.2 million). Pork export value per head slowed slightly, but is still on a record pace

April exports equated to 27.7 percent of U.S. production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat. For the first four months of this year, exports equated to $58.84 per head.

“The excellent performance of U.S. pork exports is the result of efforts to expand and maintain market access to international customers,” said R.C. Hunt, president, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) at the World Pork Expo last week in Des Moines. Hunt cited the success of free-trade agreements signed with Panama, Colombia and South Korea which are expected to increase pork exports by a total of $770 million and generate 10,200 new jobs.

The NPPC is urging the Obama administration to press countries to remove barriers to trade through Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

Individual market highlights for U.S. pork included:

• Though April was the slowest month this year for exports to Mexico, volume was up 30 percent over April 2011 and value was 18 percent higher. Through April, 2012 exports to Mexico were up 19 percent in volume (207,095 metric tons) and 18 percent in value ($377.4 million) over last year’s record pace.

• April exports to the China/Hong Kong region were the second-largest so far this year, pushing results for the first four months of the year one-third higher in volume (154,884 metric tons) and 84 percent higher in value ($312.8 million) than the same period in 2011. However, exports to this region have slowed considerably from the peak volumes shipped in the final months of last year.

• January-April exports to Japan were down slightly in volume (161,933 metric tons) from last year but were 14 percent ahead of 2011’s record value pace at just under $700 million.

• Composed almost completely of muscle cuts, April exports to Russia were the strongest in more than six months. This pushed Russia’s 2012 results 20 percent higher in volume (25,903 metric tons) and 28 percent higher in value ($78.7 million) than a year ago.

The recovery of South Korea’s swine herd from the 2010-2011 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has caused U.S. exports to slow from last year’s record pace. Through April, exports to Korea were down 31 percent in volume (67,061 metric tons) and 20 percent in value ($192.7 million) from a year ago. For perspective, however, it is important to note that other than 2011, these results still outpace any other year’s exports to Korea by a wide margin and were nearly double the volume shipped in the first four months of 2010.

“Considering the recovery of domestic supplies in markets such as Korea and China, pork exports have performed remarkably well through the first four months of the year,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “Despite fierce competition in Japan, we have increased our market share further this year and nearly topped $700 million in value. USMEF marketing efforts are also contributing to growth in the Western Hemisphere markets - especially in the processing and retail sectors - with Mexico leading the way. Even in our Latin American markets that are quite price-sensitive, U.S. pork is appealing to more customers than ever before.”