While U.S. pork exports set a new record in 2011 of over $6 billion, competition from other pork-exporting countries is mounting. The assessment was delivered by Philip Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) at the 2012 National Pork Industry Forum held recently in Denver.

Seng congratulated U.S. pork industry leaders for their resiliency and innovation in battling through difficult economic times in recent years, and helping pork exports soar to new heights in 2011. But he also urged them to remain aggressive in their international marketing efforts for U.S. pork, especially in key markets that are highly coveted by competitors.

The most important export market for U.S. pork in value terms is Japan and many competitors envy the U.S. market share. “Our major competitors in Japan are Canada, Denmark, Chili, France and Germany,” Seng said. In all, 26 countries are going after Japan, the world’s most competitive pork market, according to Seng.

Pork exports to Japan set new records in 2011 for both volume (493,313 metric tons) and value ($1.96 billion), according to USMEF.

U.S. pork producers also face more competition in South Korea with 19 countries vying for that nation’s pork import business. “The country that’s gaining the most in that market is Germany, Seng said, The European Union has a trade agreement with South Korea and “the Europeans are aggressively coming to North Asia and it is getting very competitive.”

The Hong Kong market is being barraged with competition for their pork imports. Seng said 49 countries “are going into the enclave of about 7 million people, if you can imagine that.”

The U.S. pork industry faces competition from seven countries for Mexico’s pork imports with Canada being the main competitor. Mexico is the biggest volume importer for U.S. pork.

Despite the increasing competition, Seng expects 2012 U.S. pork exports will stay around the $6 billion mark adding $54 to $55 per head marketed for U.S. producers.

According to Seng, USMEF receives about $5.2 million from the National Pork Checkoff for their work on bolstering U.S. pork access to foreign markets. Along with other sources such as the USDA, “we’re putting close to $12 million toward (U.S.) pork promotion,” Seng said. To make the investment even more beneficial, the USMEF then leverages the expenditures in foreign markets encouraging third party contributions by local companies.

For the year, pork exports equated to 27.5 percent of total production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat, according to USMEF. In terms of muscle cuts only, exports totaled 23 percent of total production.

Seng oversees USMEF operations worldwide, providing direction for strategies and priorities in international programs, research, technical services, industry relations and global communications. He also serves as the primary spokesman for USMEF and other exporting interests regarding international trade policy and foreign market development issues related to U.S. meat products.