Strong Chinese Demand Boosted U.S. Pork Exports in October

Major exports leaving USDA export ships. ( Farm Journal Media )

Demand from China fueled U.S. pork exports in October according to data released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). October pork exports increased 8.5% year-over-year to 225,376 metric tons (mt) while export value rose 10% to $592 million. January-October volume was 5% ahead of 2018’s pace at 2.13 million mt, while value increased 3% to $5.8 billion, USMEF says.

Up 4% from a year ago, pork export value averaged $48.13 per head slaughtered in October, though for January-October the per-head average was down 1% to $51.12. October exports accounted for 24% of total U.S. pork production and 20.9% for muscle cuts only, up from 23.6% and 20.7%, respectively, a year ago. Exports accounted for 26% of total pork production and 22.6% for muscle cuts for January-October, both slightly up year-over-year, according to USMEF.

Key players in October pork exports

Even though U.S. pork exports are still subject to retaliatory duties in China, exports to the China/Hong Kong region were 61,062 mt, up 150% year-over-year, while export value rose 127% to $141.3 million. January-October numbers show that exports were up 55% in volume and 34% in value, while exports to the region have already exceeded the full-year totals of 2018.

"China's efforts to rebuild its domestic swine inventory, which has been hit hard by African swine fever, are gaining traction, but there are still excellent opportunities for pork-supplying countries," said USMEF president and CEO Dan Halstrom. "As U.S.-China trade talks continue, we remain hopeful that access for U.S. red meat in China will return to a level playing field with our competitors."  

In Mexico, exports fell below year-ago levels in October, with volume at 54,639 mt, or down 18.5% and value declined 9% to $97.3 million. This is its lowest point since April. Overall, for January-October, exports to Mexico were down 11% and declined 9% in value as compared to a year ago.

"Increased demand in China is pulling some pork cuts and offal away from Mexico as well as other markets, but October shipments to Mexico were nevertheless disappointing," Halstrom said. "The U.S. industry is still feeling the effect of Mexico's retaliatory duties on pork, which were in place for about one year, and rebuilding pork demand in Mexico remains a top priority."

The 2020 outlook for U.S. pork exports to Japan brightened considerably last week following the Japanese parliament’s ratification of the U.S.-Japan trade agreement, which will bring tariffs on U.S. pork in line with the ones imposed on major competitors. USMEF says the tariff disadvantage was evident in October as export volume to the country was down 16% from a year ago to 29,622 mt and value fell 17% to $122.3 million. For January to October, exports trailed last year’s pace by 7% in volume and value.

Year-to-date highlights

  • Strong growth in Australia and New Zeeland puts pork exports to Oceania on a record pace in both volume and value. This region is an outstanding destination for U.S. hams and other muscle cuts that are used in further processing, USMEF notes.
  • In Central America, exports were 16% above 2018’s record pace in volume and 19% higher in value. Exports to Panama in particular were 1/3 higher year-over-year and Honduras and Guatemala have both seen double digit value growth.
  • Even though export volume was slightly slower from a year ago to South America, value still increased 12%. Led by growth in Columbia and an uptick in demand from Chile and Peru, January-October exports to South America are still on a record-shattering pace at 128,469 mt (up 21% year-over-year) and valued at $323.8 million (up 25%), USMEF says. 
 
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