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Pork exports shatter previous records in 2020

wissanu01/iStock/Thinkstock. bring imports exports port container ship FDS
Exports set new annual records in China/Hong Kong, Central America, Vietnam and Chile.

U.S. pork exports reached nearly 3 million metric tons (mt) in 2020, topping the 2019 record by 11%, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork export value also climbed 11% to a record $7.71 billion. Exports set new annual records in China/Hong Kong, Central America, Vietnam and Chile, and achieved strong fourth quarter growth in Japan and Mexico.

"Obviously the surge in demand from China, especially in the first half of 2020, was a driving force behind the record performance for U.S. pork exports," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "But China was not the only success story in 2020, as exports achieved growth in a broad range of markets. Diversifying export markets is a top priority for USMEF and the U.S. industry, and that strategy paid dividends - especially in the fourth quarter, when exports to China/Hong Kong were down 9% from 2019 but shipments to the rest of the world nearly offset that slowdown."

Beef exports were heavily impacted by foodservice restrictions in many major markets but trended higher late in the year, bolstered by very strong retail and holiday demand.

"Consumers across the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by seeking high-quality products they could enjoy at home, and U.S. beef and pork definitely met this need," Halstrom said. "We expect these retail and home-delivery demand trends to continue even as sit-down restaurant dining recovers, creating robust opportunities for U.S. red meat export growth."

December pork exports totaled 259,654 mt, down 8% from the very large year-ago volume, with value down 10% to $687.2 million. December muscle cut exports were also down 8% at 219,224 mt, valued at $590.2 million (down 11%). For the full year, pork muscle cut exports were record-large at 2.51 million mt, up 15% from 2019, valued at a record $6.67 billion (up 12%).

Exports reach new highs

Pork exports to China/Hong Kong totaled 1.04 million mt in 2020, up 56% from a year ago, while value climbed 63% to $2.37 billion. Shipments to the region accounted for about one-third of total U.S. export volume, but this percentage declined later in the year as exports achieved more broad-based growth. While USMEF does not expect 2021 exports to China/Hong Kong to match the levels posted over the past year, the region will still have a strong need for imported pork.

While pork exports to Mexico finished lower in both volume (688,253 mt, down 3%) and value ($1.15 billion) compared to 2019, the market showed an impressive rebound late in the year. December exports increased 8% to 71,426 mt, the third consecutive month of year-over-year volume growth.

Pork exports to Japan also gained momentum in the fourth quarter (up 12%) as the U.S. industry continued to capitalize on tariff relief provided in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement. 2020 exports to Japan finished 5% higher than a year ago at 386,700 mt, with value up 6% to $1.63 billion. U.S. market share rebounded to 36% of Japan’s total pork imports, up from a low of 31% in 2019.

According to USMEF, other 2020 highlights for U.S. pork exports include:

  • Led by strong growth in Honduras and Nicaragua, exports to Central America topped the previous record set in 2019 by 1% in both volume (99,222 mt) and value ($241.1 million). This marked the sixth consecutive year for record pork exports to the region.
  • While pork exports to South America were substantially lower in 2020, Chile emerged as a bright spot with surging fourth-quarter demand. Exports to Chile finished the year 16% higher at 49,828 mt, with value up 11% to $135.6 million. U.S. pork gained market share in Chile, as total imports were similar to 2019 but Chile’s exports surged, with more than 70% of its export volume bound for China. U.S. exports to Colombia, the regions’ largest destination for U.S. pork, declined sharply due to COVID-19 restrictions and a slumping Colombian peso, but demand showed strong signs of recovery late in the year and in early 2021.
  • Despite a slow start to the year, exports to the Philippines were 15% higher in volume (46,665 mt) and jumped 24% in value ($115 million), finishing just short of the record levels of 2018. Exports to Vietnam were record-large at 25,183 mt, up 82%, with value nearly tripling to $54.4 million. It was also a record year for ASEAN region, with exports up 28% in volume (77,149 mt) and 43% higher in value ($186.3 million).
  • Strong demand in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago pushed exports to the Caribbean 10% higher in volume (57,353 mt) and 5% higher in value ($136.8 million). Trinidad and Tobago is the region’s top destination for pork variety meats, with 2020 exports climbing 58% to a record 1,736 mt, valued at $3.1 million (up 72%).
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