June export data, released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), reflected a challenging first half of 2015 for U.S. pork exports.

June pork exports totaled 174,554 metric tons (mt), down 4 percent from a year ago. With pork prices down significantly from last year’s high levels, June export value fell 22 percent year-over-year to $454 million. For the first half of 2015, pork exports were down 5 percent in volume (1.09 million mt) and 16 percent in value ($2.88 billion).

“We were aware that exports would be facing obstacles in 2015, and that keeping pace with last year’s record performance would be difficult,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “The first-quarter slump was partially due to the West Coast port labor impasse, as well as intense competition from countries that continue to recognize opportunities in several markets. We were expecting to see a stronger rebound in the second quarter – and that did not materialize.”

June pork exports to Mexico were the largest since March, up 13 percent from a year ago to 62,112 mt. While first-half export value ($619.3 million, down 18 percent) reflected lower prices for hams and other cuts typically shipped to Mexico, export volume remained very strong (353,296 mt, up 6 percent).

Pork exports to South Korea moderated in June to 12,512 mt, up 55 percent from a year ago, but the smallest volume since November 2014. June export value was $33.1 million, up 17 percent. Korea’s first-half performance was stellar, with volume increasing 40 percent to 108,198 mt and value up 35 percent to $318.2 million.

Japan remained the leading value destination for U.S. pork, despite a 20 percent decline from last year’s pace to $835.4 million. Export volume to Japan fell 13 percent to 221,776, as Japan’s total imports also slowed.

Exports to the China/Hong Kong region fell 17 percent in volume (157,860 mt) and 22 percent in value ($330.9 million) from a year ago as the U.S. industry continues to lose market share due to lack of China-eligible supplies and the small number of plants approved to serve China. Demand for imported pork in China is on the rise due to an uptick in domestic prices and tight domestic supplies, but these opportunities are mostly being seized by European suppliers.

“Our limited access to China has become a major obstacle for U.S. pork, especially with competition intensifying in so many other global markets,” Seng said. “It’s a situation that absolutely must be addressed in order for U.S. exports to regain momentum.”

Exports to Canada held up relatively well, considering the weakness of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar. Export volume was down 6 percent to 95,443 mt while value fell 10 percent to $382.7 million.

January-June pork exports accounted for 25 percent of total production and 21 percent for muscle cuts only (down from 28 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in the first half of last year). Export value averaged $50.85 per head slaughtered, down 22 percent year-over-year and 5 percent lower than in 2013.

Editor’s notes:
Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat unless otherwise noted. One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.