With more than 80 countries importing U.S. pork so far this year, an all-time record for exports may be achievable in 2011. Export opportunities in key markets will be even greater if free-trade agreements, currently pending in U.S. Congress, are implemented.

That is not to say that attaining the new record will come easy. Successfully meeting challenges in the form of increasing pork prices and fluctuations in international currencies will continue to be necessary.

“Market access issues and fluctuations in domestic pork production in large markets such as China and Russia are perhaps the biggest challenge for the U.S. pork industry,” according to Erin Daley-Borror, U.S. Meat Export Federation economist. “Higher U.S. and global pork prices could also limit demand in top markets such as Mexico and the ASEAN region. At some point, higher prices could slow per capita consumption growth.”

This is especially the case in countries where consumers can trade down to cheaper proteins like poultry or even non-meat items. However, pork will continue to benefit as the world’s most consumed meat and a relatively affordable high-quality source of protein.

Staying on top of ever-changing regulations from trading partners and monitoring their concerns is a primary objective of USMEF.

“USMEF works closely with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C., as well as agricultural analysts in countries where U.S. products are traded, to monitor the official notices of regulatory changes,” says Paul Clayton, USMEF senior vice president for export services. “USMEF also stays in close communication with the commercial trade in overseas markets. Daily contact with USMEF international staff is also extremely important, as these individuals have a day-to-day grasp of any changes in the market.”

Some products administered to hogs raised in the United States also lead to complications in clearing pork for export markets. “The current restrictions on certain agricultural products, such as antibiotics or beta agonists, are the biggest challenges now simply because these are approved for use in the U.S. and trying to segregate production for exports can be very inefficient,” says Kevin Smith, USMEF director of export services. “Resolving these issues has proven to be extremely difficult and time-consuming, even with an international body such as CODEX present.”

Plant-by-plant approval by trading partners such as Russia has also been a significant and difficult obstacle, according to Smith.