US pork exports show strong momentum in April

Newly-released data from the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) shows that April's pork exports continued their upward trajectory after breaking records in March 2021.

10 June 2021, at 9:09am

Pork exports were the sixth largest on record in April at 269,918 metric tonnes (MT), up 2% from a year ago. Export value was $749.2 million, up 10% and the fourth highest on record. Pork muscle cuts followed a similar trajectory, increasing 3% in volume (224,179 MT) and 10% in value ($641.7 million). Through April, pork exports were 5% below last year at 1.05 million MT, valued at $2.82 billion (down 3%). Pork muscle cut exports were down 5% to 883,599 MT, valued at $2.43 billion (down 4%).

“Looking back at April 2020, it was a difficult month for red meat exports as we began to see COVID-related supply chain interruptions and foodservice demand took a major hit in many key markets,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “While it is no surprise that exports performed much better in April 2021, we are pleased to see that global demand continued to build on the broad-based growth achieved in March.”

Halstrom cautioned, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major concern for the US meat industry, adding uncertainty to the business climate in many export destinations. Logistical challenges, including container shortages and ongoing vessel congestion at many US ports, also present significant obstacles for red meat exports.

“While conditions are improving in many key markets, the COVID impact is the most intense it has ever been in Taiwan and heightened countermeasures are also in place in Japan and other Asian countries,” he explained. “But foodservice activity is climbing back in our Latin American markets and retail demand – both in traditional settings and in e-commerce – has been outstanding and USMEF continues to find innovative ways for the U.S. industry to capitalize on these opportunities. We are also working with ag industry partners and regulatory agencies to find ways to improve the flow of outbound cargo, which is essential to maintaining export growth.”

Mexico, Philippines, Central America and DR drive pork export growth

Pork export value per head slaughtered was $69.22 in April, down 5% from a year ago. Through April, per-head value averaged $63.66, down 4% from the same period last year. April exports accounted for 32% of total pork production and 28.6% for muscle cuts. These ratios were down from 36.2% and 32.2%, respectively, in April 2020, when pork production was down significantly due to COVID-related obstacles. Through April, exports accounted for 30.4% of total pork production and 27.4% for muscle cuts – each down about two percentage points from a year ago.

April pork exports to Mexico were the largest of 2021 at 67,365 MT, up 58% from a year ago, with value more than doubling to $143.4 million (up 126%). Through April, shipments to Mexico were 7% ahead of last year’s pace at 254,377 MT, with value up 18% to $488.5 million. While much of the US pork entering Mexico is for further processing, retail demand has strengthened in supermarkets and emerging venues such as convenience stores.

Led by strong demand across a range of markets, Central America continued to be a growth leader for US pork in April, with exports up 56% from a year ago to 10,911 MT, valued at $29.7 million (up 74%). Through April, exports exceeded last year’s record pace by 49% in both volume (46,837 MT) and value ($119.4 million). Honduras and Guatemala remain the region’s largest destinations for US pork, but January-April exports doubled year-over-year to Costa Rica and achieved strong growth in El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua.

Pork exports to the Philippines soared again in April, bolstered in part by temporary tariff rate reductions that took effect 17 April. Through April, exports to the Philippines more than tripled from a year ago to 39,673 MT (up 258%), valued at $99.5 million (up 270%). The recent tariff rate reductions apply only to pork muscle cuts, a category in which US exports were already up dramatically in 2021. Through April, pork muscle cut shipments to the Philippines increased 404% to 33,128 MT, with value up 325% to $88.3 million.

Other January-April highlights for US pork exports include

  • Pork exports to the Dominican Republic are on a record pace through April, topping last year’s totals by 48% in volume (22,098 MT) and 53% in value ($52.2 million).
  • After struggling last year, pork exports to Colombia are making a strong recovery in 2021. April shipments exceeded year-ago levels for the third consecutive month, pushing January-April exports 29% above last year’s pace in both volume (32,762 MT) and value ($73.9 million).
  • April pork exports to South Korea exceeded last year for the first time in 2021 at 16,642 MT (up 10%), valued at $53.4 million (up 26%). Through April, exports to Korea still trailed last year’s pace by 4% at 63,237 MT, valued at $189.2 million (down 3%).
  • While China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for US pork, January-April exports to the region were down 23% from a year ago to 318,780 MT, valued at $725.8 million. China/Hong Kong accounted for nearly 35% of US pork export volume last year, but through April the 2021 ratio is down to 30%.
  • After a strong March performance, April pork exports to Japan declined to 32,948 MT (down 19% from a year ago), valued at $135.7 million (down 17%). Through April, exports fell 3% below last year’s pace in both volume (137,776 MT) and value ($571.8 million). On a positive note, Japan’s import data show April imports of US chilled pork were up 11% from a year ago to 20,781 MT, with January-April imports up 1% to 71,508 MT.