International markets continued their robust purchases of U.S. pork in 2008. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, 2008 pork export volume was up a record-setting 57 percent over 2007 levels to more than 4.5 billion pounds valued at $4.9 billion.

It was the 17th consecutive record-setting year of increased pork exports. For December, total pork export volumes rose 19.7 percent over 2007 levels while export values rose 19.2 percent.

Japan was the largest export market for U.S. pork in 2008, reporting substantial gains for December and achieving a 26 percent gain in volume for the year. Japan imported 996.2 million pounds of pork valued at $1.5 billion in 2008 accounting for 31.6 percent of total U.S. pork export value.

The China-Hong Kong region emerged as the second largest export market for U.S. pork in 2008, purchasing 880.9 million pounds valued at $689.4 million. That represented increases of 136 percent in volume and 155 percent in value over 2007.

For the year, Mexico was the third-largest destination for U.S. pork. USMEF noted that Mexico, the largest U.S. pork market in December, set a monthly record importing 106.2 million pounds of U.S. pork valued at $77 million. U.S. pork exports to Canada were up 15 percent to 376 million pounds valued at $557.6 million, a 13 percent increase.

USMEF estimates that for 2008, 24.4 percent of U.S. pork production was exported. This compares to 16.5 percent in 2007. The value of exports per head slaughtered equated to $42.31 compared to $29.16 in 2007.

While pork exports set records in 2008, USMEF officials point to some concern for 2009 pork export levels. “China is an area that bears watching,” says Erin Daley, USMEF economist. Daley believes it is unlikely that China's pork imports in 2009 will match last year's record. Increased industry profitability last spring is supporting a substantial expansion of China's herd and lower hog and pork prices.

In addition, China is aggressively re-building their swine herd after severe setbacks from disease and natural disasters. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, by the end of the third quarter of 2008, China's live hog inventory had increased 6.6 percent from the year-earlier figure, and the sow population increased 12.4 percent. Total marketed hogs increased 5.8 percent and meat production was up approximately 6 percent.

Russia presents another potential obstacle facing 2009 pork exports. “With 35 U.S. pork facilities delisted, exports to Russia could face a rough start in 2009, not to mention the challenging economic situation and the devaluation of the ruble,” said Daley.  “The good news is that Russia increased the U.S. tariff rate quota from 50,700 metric tons to 100,000 metric tons for 2009 – allowing an additional 49,300 metric tons to enter at 15 percent duty instead of the over-quota rate of up to 75 percent.

Exports of U.S. beef and lamb in 2008 recorded double-digit increases over 2007 levels. For the calendar year, beef export volumes rose 28 percent to 2.2 billion pounds while values jumped 38 percent to $3.6 billion. U.S. lamb exports also enjoyed a solid year.  The value of lamb and mutton exports rose 44 percent to $25.3 million on volume of 17.3 million pounds.

Source: USMEF