U.S. pork exports have been the savior for U.S. pork producers.

“One in five market hogs are leaving the country,” points out Nick Giordano, National Pork Producers Council’s trade counsel. For first quarter 2008, pork exports were up 41 percent over 2007’s levels.

“We have to be vigilant in keeping these markets open," Giordano says, “and continue to grow them.”

"Bottom line, pork exports now account for nearly $44 of value per hog marketed," says Bryan Black, NPPC president and Ohio pork producer.

He says that work must continue to improve pork's access to foreign markets with such efforts as free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. “Every time we have an FTA, our exports go up. Pork is something of a poster child on trade advancements and growth,” Giordano says. "South Korea could be our biggest trade deal yet." It alone could add another $10 to every hog marketed.

He admits that it was optimistic to get that deal secured by year's end. "There will be some tough sledding on that vote," he adds.

A short-term factor that must get some of the credit for the export gains is the weak U.S. dollar, Giordano says.

A limiting factor, however, is the shortage of shipping containers. "NPPC is working to get more of those containers returned," says Black. Giordano points out that an IowaStateUniversity estimate suggests that limited shipping containers are suppressing exports by 20 percent to 30 percent.

Long-term, the United States is setting up to be the No. 1 pork supplier. Black points to herd reductions elsewhere in the world -- Canada, Spain, Denmark. 

As Giordano points out, according to Iowa State economists, "the United States' cost of production is lower than most other countries. So, we are setting up to be the world's safe, low-cost pork supplier."

Looking ahead, "I think our exports will continue to be very brisk," he concludes.