A shipment of U.S. hams which has just arrived in an Australian port, marks the end of a de facto ban on U.S. pork exports to Australia. The United States could only send canned and heat-treated pork prior to this year when a comprehensive free trade agreement was signed on Feb. 8. The agreement gave immediate duty-free access to eligible agricultural products and a promise to permit frozen pork after the “resolution of technical issues.”

Those technical issues were resolved when Australia released three Import Risk Analysis (IRAs) documents on Feb. 19, including a final IRA report for pork, which concluded that there was no sanitary risk to Australian hogs from imports of U.S. pork.

The next step was an economic assessment of any impact new pork imports would have on Australian industries, and a new quarantine policy announced May 10 paved the way for raw pork exports to Australian processors. The frozen, uncooked pork import market is far larger than that for canned meat and could provide significant and immediate export opportunities for U.S. exporters. In 2002, total Australian imports of this category of pork products exceeded 40,000 MT, a record. 

U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) conducted a market assessment last year (available on disk by contacting Molly Penn at mpenn@usmef.org) detailing the market potential for U.S. pork in Australia. USMEF cooperated with the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council in response to a pork import risk analysis conducted by the Australian government, which hinted at the relaxation of some of Australia’s onerous pork import restrictions. The new Australian quarantine regulations are intended to tighten controls on pork imports, but will allow imports from more countries. Although the new rules should significantly increase U.S. pork exports to Australia, they still prevent pork exports to retailers and restaurants. The remaining Australian restrictions are based on concerns, considered groundless by the U.S., about the transmissibility of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and Post Weaning Multisystemic Wasting Syndrome (PMWS).

USMEF hosted an Australian Pork Buyers team in Des Moines, Iowa, in July, and this first shipment comes from a ham processor in Iowa. The buyers came from leading Australian import companies already interested in the potential for U.S. pork in Australia. As the domestic Australian pork industry increasingly gears up for the export trade, especially to Asia, new opportunities are being created for imports. The appreciating Australian dollar has increased the competitiveness of imported pork. Australia, which has 19.7 million people and a per capita GDP of $27,402, has one of the highest per capita red meat consumption levels in the world. Historic meat consumption trends in Australia exhibit many of the same trends as the United States. Since the mid 1970s, beef and lamb consumption has declined, while that of pork and poultry has increased. Pork consumption in Australia has roughly doubled from 10 kilograms-per-person in 1975 to 20.9 kilograms in 2002. 

Australia, the world's eighth largest pork importer, imported approximately 60,000 metric tons (mt) of pork last year, consisting almost entirely of Canadian boneless leg meat and Danish middles for further processing. In addition to these two countries, only New Zealand has had access to the market due to its overly strict quarantine regulations and the fact that Australia, until it published its generic risk assessment, only negotiated pork access on a bilateral basis. 

While pork is the most popular meat in the world, representing nearly 50 percent of daily meat protein consumption worldwide, the U.S. is facing stiff competition from Canada, Brazil and the EU, and market access issues in some countries are still a concern. Despite these obstacles, worldwide U.S. pork exports have broken volume records each year for more than a decade. U.S. pork exports (including variety meat) totaled 757,905 metric tons (mt) in 2003, up from 726,357 mt in 2002. The value of U.S. pork exports rose 5 percent to $1.582 billion, breaking the record set in 2001.

The competitive strengths of the U.S. pork industry in world markets include recognition by the international trade that the U.S. has one of the strictest food safety systems in the world and the ability of the U.S. to supply large volumes of chilled pork by cut.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.

U.S. Meat Export Federation