Any business owner will tell you that a population with 96 percent of a potential market is vital to your success. Since only 4 percent of the world’s population lives within the U.S. borders, pork exports represent that potential market.

Last year the United States exported pork to nearly 100 countries. Exports have been steadily climbing, and have been adding value to the pork you produce.

“Every 1 percent change in net exports equals $250 million to the U.S. pork industry,” says Nick Giordano, international trade counsel for the National Pork Producers Council.

A 1997 study showed that exports added $15 per head to every hog sold in the United States. Of course, in 1997 the average cash price was $51 so that number won’t be as high now.

Lower hog prices aren’t the only thing since 1997 to affect exports. The last couple of years has seen the collapse of the Asian and Russian economies.
In early 1995 it took about 90 Japanese yen to buy one U.S. dollar. The yen steadily weakened until August of 1999, where it hit 145 yen to the dollar. Since that time, Japan has seen an economic upturn. Last month it took about 104 yen to equal a dollar. That is above the average for the 1990s of 119 yen to the dollar.

“A strong U.S. dollar makes it easy to import products into the country, but tough to export products,” says Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist. “A weaker dollar is favorable to the U.S. pork trade.”

“In spite of the low hog prices the dollar has been very strong versus our competitors, the Canadian dollar and Danish krone,” says Giordano. “As strong as pork exports have been the dollar’s strength is one thing that has hurt us.”

Asia’s economic recovery has begun, and actually happened before most analysts expected.

However, the Russian story is much less optimistic. The economic collapse and ruble devaluation that began in August 1998 has all but eliminated pork exports to Russia. For the first three quarters of 1999, exports to Russia were down 96 percent from a year earlier. Giordano does not expect to see the return of Russia as an export market in 2000, but adds that NPPC is working to put together another food-aid package.

Despite recent economic problems in Asia and Russia, the general outlook for pork exports remains positive. Totals for 1999 were expected to finish down about 7 percent from 1998, largely due to a decline in the Russian Federation sales. Not figured into that total is the 50,000 metric tons of pork shipped to Russia as part of a U.S. food-aid package. If you include those supplies, 1999’s total exports would have exceeded 1998’s.

Japan is far and away U.S. pork’s top export market, with Mexico also strong. Those markets are expected to carry pork export numbers until new markets open up and old markets strengthen.

Economic growth worldwide is one reason the future of exports looks so rosy. People all over the world are increasing their disposable income. One of the first things people do when they get some money in their pockets is add more meat to their diets.

A Council for Agricultural Science and Technology survey, reports total meat consumption in developing countries will more than double by 2020. Because most of the world’s population is in developing countries, global demand for meat is projected to increase more than 60 percent by then.

Of the markets that are expected to open up or increase U.S. pork purchases, China and Taiwan top this list. That’s due to their possible inclusion in the World Trade Organization.

The pork package that the United States negotiated with China has the potential to transform China into the single greatest opportunity for U.S. pork producers. The deal calls for tariffs on frozen pork to be phased down to 12 percent. Tariffs on frozen pork carcasses and fresh and processed pork products will be set at 20 percent. That will be phased down to 12 percent over a four-year-period after China becomes a WTO member. For this to happen Congress will need to approve permanent normal trade relations with China.

The World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last month addressed important points for the pork industry. Giordano says the WTO negotiations in Seattle were mostly positive. The zero-for-zero initiative, which means that all tariffs, exports and trade-distorting domestic subsidies be removed from pork and pork products as soon as possible, was not finalized. However, it did draw a lot of attention and was discussed with several countries. Currently, Canada is the only other country to sign the initiative.

“There are a lot of markets we’re locked out of by things like high tariffs and bogus sanitary reasons,” says Giordano. “The most important factor for exports is market access.”

Of course the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on even its strongest export markets. Denmark is currently the No. 1 pork exporter globally.

In fact, the United States runs second to Danish pork in the Japanese market. This is in part because the market is split. The United States provided more than 65 percent of Japan’s fresh or chilled pork in the first three quarters of 1999. Meanwhile, Denmark provided about 45 percent of Japan’s frozen pork, a product used primarily for processing. That accounts for more total tonnage than the U.S. sales.

What does the future hold for U.S. pork’s biggest rivals?

The Danes face a much higher cost of production, than U.S. producers and that will increase as European producers face more restrictions, in areas such as antibiotics and animal welfare.

Canada on the other hand has similar production costs and provides a high-quality product, produced to specifications closely matching its customers.

“Canada is similar to the United States without some of the political baggage,” says Plain. He refers to the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kosovo and the United States’ role as a world leader as a hindrance to U.S. pork exports.

To become the world’s No. 1 pork supplier, the United States must set its product apart from its competitors.

“The most important thing is to convince foreign consumers that our product is safe and wholesome,” says John Cravens, director of foreign market development for NPPC. “Consumers in many markets are skeptical about imported foods.”

Cravens says producers need to gain more information about foreign consumers, so they can decide if they can produce pork that fits these customers’ needs.

“Producers need to understand that exports put money in their pockets,” says Giordano. “For the most part, producers have been very savvy about that.”

“Export development is a complicated endeavor,” says Cravens. “You essentially start with someone who’s never heard of you and get them to buy your product on a regular basis.”

Who Gets the Biggest Slice?

In the past five years or so U.S. pork exports have increased dramatically. To maintain this trend you need to understand what consumers in those markets want. The first step, is knowing where that pork is going. Here are the United States’ top export markets for the past two years. China and Taiwan are considered valuable potential markets, because of their WTO status.

Percent of total U.S.pork value
COUNTRY 1998 1999
Japan 54.1% 60.4%
Mexico 12.6% 12.3%
Canada 8.6% 8.4%
Russia 6.5% 4.4%
China/Hong Kong 5.1% 3.5%
Other 13.1% 11.0%

Source: National Pork Producers Council, USDA and the United Meat Export Federation