U.S. pork exports have a tough act to follow after a record-setting year in 2011, but the early indications for 2012 are looking up. January pork exports jumped 28 percent in volume and 43 percent in value according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

“There is a challenge to follow a very successful year like 2011 and sustain the momentum,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. Seng cited opportunities to expand the presence of U.S. pork by exploring new market niches as well as increasing access with key trading partners.

Export markets continue to grow in importance for U.S. producers. January’s pork export value equated to $59.44 per head of commercial slaughter compared to $43.59 a year ago, and 29.6 percent of total production (including variety meat) was exported in January versus 24.2 percent last year. For just muscle cuts, 25 percent of production was exported this January compared to 20 percent last year.

Sales jumped in double or triple figures with the top key pork trading partners, surging 21 percent and 27 percent respectively in volume and value to Mexico; 88 percent and 158 percent to China; and 17 percent and 28 percent to Japan.

For the month, the U.S. exported 211,457 metric tons of pork valued at $566.9 million, increases of 28 percent in volume and 43 percent in value, according to USMEF. While it’s early in the year, it is encouraging that these increases are coming on the heels of a year that saw 2011 pork exports top 2.25 million metric tons valued at $6.1 billion.

“In some markets, such as Japan, we are reaching into new secondary markets and niches like the sozai (deli) segment,” said Seng. “In others, like South Korea, we’re focused on sustaining the progress we made last year and preparing for the imminent implementation of the Korea-U.S. FTA. Korea has made significant progress in rebuilding their hog inventories so we expect total imports to decrease this year but the U.S. will also gain a competitive edge against other suppliers through the FTA.”

Top pork export markets in January were:

  • Mexico: 60,737 metric tons (up 21 percent) valued at $110.3 million (up 27 percent)
  • Japan: 41,697 metric tons (up 17 percent) valued at $170.8 million (up 28 percent)
  • China: 36,175 metric tons (up 88 percent) valued at $75.1 million (up 158 percent)
  • Canada: 19,167 metric tons (up 47 percent) valued at $65.7 million (up 52 percent)
  • South Korea: 18,173 metric tons (up 38 percent) valued at $51.5 million (up 61 percent)