Communication, collaboration and coordination key to increasing U.S. pork exports.

Ann Hess, Content Director

March 7, 2024

4 Min Read
National Pork Board

Diversification from China and looking toward market opportunities in Africa and Southeast Asia will be key to the future of U.S. pork exports.

“The way that we look at this strategy is not just where can we get market access and where we see growth potential for our industry, but also where does it make sense to push on these issues politically and economically,” said Maria C. Zieba, vice president of international affairs, National Pork Producers Council. “We're not going to push, to get market access into a country that is in the middle of turmoil. So that's where we have to all be very collaborative. Africa is a growing region that we’ve partnered very well with USMEF.”

During the 2024 National Pork Industry Forum in Chicago this week, Zieba detailed why Africa is a focus for NPPC, as the African Growth Opportunities Act, which comes up for renewal by Congress every 10 years, will be on the docket in 2025.

“That means that I have a lot of work to do between now and then, and so does our congressional team to make sure members of Congress add enforcement text into the legislation so that when we negotiate market access into South Africa, and they backslide, that we hold them accountable,” Zieba said.

Southeast Asia is another focus for U.S. pork exports. For example, in Malaysia alone, the industry saw 1000% growth by increasing the number of plants approved from one to now five. A feat, that Zieba credits to collaboration with U.S. Meat Export Federation and exporters.

Alignment is critical said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, as the more success USMEF has in developing and maintaining markets for U.S. pork, the busier Zieba and her team are in addressing possible warning signals.

“The issue is we're developing these markets to the point where price is not the primary concern,” Halstrom said. “It's availability, it's quality, it's programs, it's the story. So, when we get calls about why can't I get more pork? Whatever it is, I'll use hams as an example. When the market went up over a dollar, the answer is that production is what it is. You need to keep buying because you don't want to lose your place in line.”

USMEF has their eyes set on Southeast Asia and Africa as well.

“I'm so bullish on Africa, not even long term, medium term, that I can't even describe parts alone. We can sell 40 containers a month of parts overnight once we get access, and this is high on our list,” Halstrom said. “The African region is one that is really being focused on by the government as well. There’s a lot of support out there for the African market, the region as a whole.”

Other USMEF goals include getting chilled, vacuum-packed pork into as many markets as possible. Eating quality is better because it's chilled rather than frozen. But Halstrom notes importers also have to buy chilled product 52 weeks a year.

“When they're buying chilled, they can't wait and not buy for two weeks because they think the market's going down,” Halstrom said. “So, getting program business into the pipeline, it also helps the packer because they can plan 52 weeks out front.”

Halstrom says if he had to pick one thing that drove record exports last year, it would be supplying a convenient product. For example, in Korea, home meal replacements make up nearly half of retail stores and it’s also being driven by online demand. The case-ready product trend is also taking place in Japan, China and Mexico.

“Who would've thought that we'd be talking about value-added programs in Mexico 30 years ago? I never did and now they're right at the front of the line, making sure that their volumes are available in Mexico, and we had a record in Mexico last year in October, with two months left to go in the year,” Halstrom said. “Mexico has really turned into a great trading partner and a dependable trading partner. The goal is to get some of these other developing regions to do the same thing, and that takes time. “

Variety meats is another focus, as it continues to be the industry’s “bread and butter globally,” making up over 10% of  U.S. pork export value.

“There was a time not too long ago in Korea where the value of pork bungs was three times that of pork loin, $3 a pound for a pork bung for barbecue,” Halstrom said. “So, you know, one man's center of the plate is another man's render product and vice versa, pork loin is our center of the plate. So, it's about matching up the demand to maximize the value of the carcass.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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