U.S. pork exports posted a strong finish in 2015 as December volume was the largest since April and the third-largest of the year, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).  

December exports of U.S. pork were up 3 percent from a year ago to 188,410 metric tons (mt). Export value was $468.9 million, down 13 percent from a year ago but the highest since May. For the full calendar year, pork exports were down 2 percent from a year ago in volume (2.13 million mt) and 16 percent lower in value ($5.58 billion). Pork muscle cut exports increased 3 percent in volume (1.7 million mt) while falling 15 percent in value ($4.77 billion), but pork variety meat exports declined significantly in both volume (434,661 mt, down 17 percent) and value ($808.4 million, down 22 percent). However, as USMEF has previously noted, year-over-year comparisons, especially for pork variety meat, may not be entirely accurate due to issues with 2014 data for Japan.*

Pork exports accounted for 24 percent of total 2015 production and 21 percent for muscle cuts only – down from 26.5 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in 2014. Export value per head slaughtered averaged $48.31, down 23 percent from 2014.

“There is no question that 2015 was a challenging year for red meat exports, with several economic headwinds taking a toll,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “But with production increasing in the year ahead in both the beef and pork industries, we cannot afford to dwell on these circumstances or back away from our commitment to the international markets. We must continue to find innovative ways to differentiate U.S. products, win back market share and regain momentum for exports in 2016. That means aggressive pursuit of new customers and new opportunities, in both emerging and established markets.”

Record U.S. pork exports to Mexico 

U.S. pork exports to Mexico set a new monthly record in December at 67,980 mt, pushing 2015 volume to 718,819 mt – up 6 percent from 2014 and setting a new record for the fourth consecutive year. Export value was down 19 percent to $1.27 billion, reflecting lower U.S. prices, but demand for U.S. pork held up extremely well in Mexico considering the peso was down an average of 16 percent versus the U.S. dollar in 2015.

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U.S. pork exports to Asia

With several U.S. pork plants recently regaining eligibility for China, December exports to the China/Hong Kong region posted the largest volume in nearly two years at 33,691 mt (up 27 percent year-over-year). In 2015, exports to China/Hong Kong edged 1 percent higher in volume (339,056 mt) and were down 10 percent in value ($700.4 million). China/Hong Kong’s imports from all suppliers set a new record of 1.937 million mt in 2015, up 8 percent. While the U.S. industry capitalized on this trend late in the year, the European Union was the primary beneficiary, capturing about 70 percent market share.

Exports to leading value market Japan struggled in 2015, declining 13 percent year-over-year in volume (406,186 mt) and 18 percent in value ($1.59 billion, the lowest since 2009). A recent decline in Japan’s frozen inventories indicates opportunities for import growth in 2016. But the U.S. continues to face increasing competition in Japan, especially from European suppliers.

Exports to South Korea increased 24 percent in volume (167,524 mt) and 6 percent in value ($470.2 million). Korea’s imports from all suppliers expanded in 2015 as domestic pork production recovered slowly from porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and suffered new outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.

Taiwan showed renewed demand for U.S. pork in 2015, with exports increasing 29 percent in volume (20,278 mt) and 4 percent in value ($39.9 million).