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U.S. Pork Exports Stagnate in 2018, Pressured by Tariffs

Export value to Mexico declined 13% to $1.31 billion
Photograph courtesy of the National Pork Board

Retaliatory duties imposed in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports thwarted what would have otherwise been a strong year for U.S. pork exports in 2018. Export volume to Mexico, the leading volume market, finished the year at 3% below the 2017 record, but export value declined 13% to $1.31 billion, the lowest since 2015, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

From June through December, export value declined 25%, totaling $218 million, exemplifying the degree to which U.S. producers and exporters were affected by Mexico’s 20% retaliatory duty.

“The U.S. pork industry understands the vital importance of the Mexican market, and with strong industry support USMEF has intensified its efforts to retain as much of this business as possible,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, in a statement. “This includes enhanced outreach in every sector, from large processors, to regional supermarkets, to specialty retailers and restaurant chains. While these efforts have been successful, the decline in export value clearly shows the negative impact these retaliatory duties have imposed on the U.S. pork supply chain.”

Retaliatory duties also affected pork exports to China/Hong Kong, which fell 29% in volume and 21% in value year over year.

Despite challenges, overall sales of U.S. pork abroad remained relatively steady compared with 2017. U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports totaled 5.37 billion pounds, unchanged from the year prior, and were valued at $6.392 billion, down 1% from 2017.

Pork exports accounted for 25.7% of total 2018 U.S. pork and pork variety meat production, and export value per head averaged $51.37, down 3.9% from 2017.

“Without a doubt, 2018 was a difficult year for U.S. pork exports,” said Bill Luckey, a pork producer from Columbus, Neb., and chair of the Pork Checkoff International Marketing committee, in a statement. “Market-access challenges were the main reason.”

However, U.S. pork exports to South Korea and Colombia were record-shattering. Pork and pork variety meat exports to Korea were up 40% in volume and 41% in value, while exports to Colombia were up 39% in volume and 32% in value.

“With projections for increased pork production this year, the Pork Checkoff is committed to strengthening its partnership with its international customers,” Luckey said. “The National Pork Board increased Checkoff funding by 12.7% over 2018 to increase exports around the globe. In fact, since 2014, the Checkoff has increased international marketing funding by more than 30%.”

During 2018, more than 100 countries imported U.S. pork. The top five U.S. pork export markets in total pounds were:

  • Mexico (1.71 billion pounds)
  • Japan (869 million pounds)
  • China/Hong Kong (775 million pounds)
  • South Korea (534 million pounds)
  • Canada (453 million pounds)

The top five U.S. pork export markets in total value were:

  • Japan ($162 billion)
  • Mexico ($131 billion)
  • China/Hong Kong ($851 million)
  • Canada ($764 million)
  • South Korea ($670 million)

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