With Mexico being the leading destination for U.S. pork exports and Canada consistently ranking in the top four, enormous volumes are trucked across each border on a daily basis. The vast majority of shipments arrive without delay, but recent impasses at both the north and south borders cast a spotlight on how much product is at risk when border crossings don't go as planned.
Most U.S. pork destined for Mexico transits through Texas where Governor Greg Abbott issued an order in early April requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct additional inspections on commercial trucks entering Texas from Mexico as part of an initiative against illegal immigration. Initially these inspections caused delays for northbound trucks, but the policy prompted blockades by Mexican truckers and other protesters who blocked southbound traffic at key points of entry into Mexico. The situation was further complicated by the approaching Easter holiday, with U.S. pork exporters working to move shipments across the border before inspection points closed for Good Friday.
Fortunately this dispute was relatively short-lived, as over the next several days Abbott reached border security agreements with governors of each of the four Mexican states containing border crossings. The additional inspections were suspended and the protests disrupting southbound traffic ceased.
This came as a great relief to the U.S. pork industry, as on an average weekday nearly 4,000 metric tons of pork is trucked into Mexico, with a daily value of about $6 million. Pork is typically shipped to Mexico chilled – not frozen – which makes prompt border clearance even more imperative. Delays are especially problematic for chilled pork cuts and variety meats destined for further processing, which are mostly shipped in combo bins and less protected from spoilage than cuts boxed for distribution to the retail or foodservice sectors.
Exporters faced a similarly troubling situation at the Canadian border in February when protesters blocked several major crossings in response to Canada's COVID-19 vaccine mandates. For the U.S. pork industry, the most disruptive delays occurred at the Ambassador Bridge near Windsor, Ontario, the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing and a critical point of entry for product destined for the Toronto metropolitan area. A large volume of traffic was diverted to the Blue Water Bridge crossing near Sarnia, Ontario, causing delays on this route.
Canadian law enforcement eventually dispersed the blockades and reopened all U.S.-Canada border crossings, but the protests impacted a significant volume of U.S. pork. While not as large a destination as Mexico, more than 700 mt of chilled U.S. pork enters Canada on a typical day. With Canada being a high-value market, the estimated daily value of these shipments is more than $3 million.
While these disruptions at both the Mexican and Canadian borders centered on issues unrelated to meat trade, these events highlighted the importance of North American trade relations and prompt border clearances for U.S. pork. For this reason, the U.S. Meat Export Federation invests significant time and resources to ensure that shipments enter both countries as smoothly as possible.
"Delays are fairly rare for U.S. pork shipments to Mexico and Canada, but this is not by accident," explains Cheyenne McEndaffer, USMEF director of export services. "Like most trading partners, Mexico and Canada maintain a complex set of documentation, labeling and other requirements and compliance is essential. USMEF has made it a major point of emphasis to keep exporting companies apprised of these regulations. We also work closely with USDA to ensure that the U.S. is on the same page as Canadian and Mexican customs officials on how import requirements are interpreted and enforced."
McEndaffer has teamed with Alejandra Valdez, USMEF's senior director of technical services based in Mexico City, and USDA personnel to conduct training seminars for staff from companies exporting to Mexico. These sessions highlight any recent changes in Mexican regulations (or how they are interpretated) and examine common errors that can cause shipments to be rejected or delayed at the border.
"These seminars target company staff who are truly on the front lines, dealing with a high volume of paperwork and making sure every piece of documentation is compliant," McEndaffer says. "Mexico's customs agents have a difficult job and there is a high turnover rate, so it's very important to ensure that regulations are interpreted consistently."
After setting new volume and value records in 2021, pork exports to Mexico remain on a blistering pace this year. First quarter exports reached 243,314 mt, up 30% year-over-year, valued at $404.2 million (up 17%). Since August of last year Mexico has been accounting for 9% to 10% of U.S. pork muscle cut production, largely offsetting the slowdown in exports to China.
USMEF is also involved in ongoing efforts to simplify the export process for pork shipments destined for Canada, which must comply with Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations.
"For the past several years, CFIA has been overhauling Canada's food safety protocols for both domestic and imported products," McEndaffer says. "USMEF has monitored these proceedings carefully and while there have been no major alarm bells, we have provided input on areas where there is room for improvement."
In addition to being a key market for fresh pork, Canada is the largest U.S. export destination for value-added processed pork products and ready-to-eat items.
"These products often carry additional levels of regulation, due to added ingredients, labeling requirements and other factors," McEndaffer says. "So it's essential that we stay on top of any changes and advise U.S. companies accordingly."
Last year processed pork exports to Canada were valued at $433 million (up 28% year-over-year) and in the first quarter of 2022 totaled $101.5 million (up 5%). Canada is also the top destination for U.S. sausage exports, which are not included in the processed pork total because sausages can include pork and beef. Sausage exports to Canada were valued at $216 million in 2021, up 18%, and totaled nearly $52 million in the first quarter of 2022.
Total pork and pork variety meat exports to Canada topped 220,000 mt in 2021 and set a new value record at $952.3 million. With exports to Mexico reaching a record $1.68 billion, the two markets accounted for about one-third of total U.S. export value – which also set a new record at $8.11 billion.
Source: U.S. Meat Export Federation, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.