According to the USDA's Livestock, Dairy and Poultry report, In the first 6 months of 2012, U.S. exporters shipped more than 2.7 billion pounds of pork to foreign destinations, 12 percent more than a year ago. The top 10 foreign buyers of U.S. pork products are listed below.

While Japan remains far and away the largest foreign buyer of U.S. pork products, U.S. shipments to Japan through June were 4.6 percent lower than during the same period last year. Japanese data for ending stocks suggest that strong first-quarter Japanese pork imports combined with slowed product disappearance boosted ending stocks above recent averages.

It is likely that as stock levels moderate, Japanese imports will accelerate.

China has become the third largest foreign destination for U.S. pork so far in 2012. Through June, Chinese imports of U.S. pork products were over 365 million pounds, more than double shipments during the same period last year.

With strong year-over-year shipments through June, China now accounts for more than 13 percent of total U.S. pork exports, up from a 6.4 percent share a year ago (see table to the right).

Recent news reports indicate that the Government of China has announced a round of pork purchases to support the pork sector during a period of low product prices. The figure below shows that weekly hog prices for the major producing region of Sichuan have recently dropped below the 2009-2011 average, and have traded significantly below 2011 prices since early April.

The impact of such a program on Chinese pork imports remains unclear. Retail prices of pork products and pork producer returns likely will continue to be the key determinants of Chinese demand for imported pork products.

U.S. pork exports are expected to be 5.396 billion pounds this year, 4 percent higher than in 2011. In 2013, exports are expected to be about equal to shipments this year.

Higher U.S. pork prices from lower production next year may limit shipments to some foreign markets. Higher world feed costs however, may reduce foreign pork production and induce pork imports from the United States. Because feed costs are expected to be higher almost everywhere, it is likely that the United States will remain among the world’s low-cost pork producers.