The USDA's March Livestock, Dairy and Poultry report showed that pork exports in 2012 started off with a bang: January exports of 502 million pounds were 36 percent above a year ago. See the table below, which sets out the top five foreign destinations for U.S. pork exports in January.

With good reason, U.S. pork exports to China garner much attention because of the country’s population and its potential as a buyer of U.S. pork products. The figure shows U.S. exports to China since January 2011. The data in the figure show an export peak in November 2011 and an ongoing decline, as the small number of relatively large Chinese orders placed last year are filled and shipped.

U.S. pork exports: Five largest destinations, January 2012

Rank Country Jan. 2012 Jan. 2011 % change
    (million lbs. cwe) (million lbs. cwe)  
  World 501.9 368.9 36.1
1 Japan 127.6 107.2 19.1
2 Mexico 115.6 99.9 15.7
3 China 82.9 25.9 220.3
4 S. Korea 46.1 35.0 31.4
5 Canada 45.8 30.3 51.0

Source:USDA\ERS. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/MeatTrade/

The export data in the table show that China was the third-largest foreign destination for U.S. pork in January. These data also suggest that exports to Japan and Mexico helped drive January U.S. export numbers into the stratosphere. It is worth noting that shipments to South Korea were more than 31 percent over year ago, and exports to Canada increased 51 percent.

South Korea is still recovering from foot and mouth disease problems, with the Government of South Korea extending zero-duty tariff rate quotas for certain cuts during the first quarter of 2012. Canada’s strong dollar is likely fueling Canadian demand for relatively cheap U.S. pork products.