U.S. pork exports are well on the way to their fifteenth consecutive record year. The U.S. exported a record 1.533 billion pounds of pork during the first six months of 2006, 15.2% more than during January-June 2005. That equals 14.9% of U.S. production and is more pork than was exported in any 12-month period prior to 2001. The biggest foreign buyer of U.S pork is Japan, followed by Mexico, Canada, South Korea and Russia. Of the 202 million pound increase in the amount of pork exported this year, 198 million pounds have gone to Russia, Mexico and South Korea.
"The relative 'healthiness' of pork is a factor in this growth in exports," says Ron Plain, University of Missouri economist. "World beef trade has been restricted in recent years because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. World poultry trade has slowed in recent months because of concerns about avian influenza. Thus, pork is in a strong position."
Export growth outpaces pork production growth
First half 2006 U.S. pork production climbed 160 million pounds compared to January-June 2005. U.S. pork exports during this period rose by 202.3 million pounds. Pork imports were up by 7.5 million pounds.
Thus, the improvement in net pork trade during the first six months of 2006 absorbed 194.7 million pounds or 122% of the 160 million pound rise in U.S. pork production. Because of the rapid growth in exports, Plain expects per capita pork consumption in the U.S. to drop by about half a pound this year compared to last.
Sagging demand brings lower prices
Despite the tighter per capita supplies and despite inflation, retail pork prices in the U.S. averaged 6.7 cents per pound lower in the first half of 2006 than during the same months of 2005. "Domestic pork demand is clearly softer than in 2005, due in part to the fading popularity of high protein/low carbohydrate diets," says Plain.
Pork imports during the first half of 2006 totaled 496.8 million pounds, an amount equal to 4.8% of U.S. pork production during January-June. Pork imports are less than a third of U.S. pork exports.
"Our biggest foreign customer, Japan, bought 8.2% less U.S. pork in the first half of 2006 than during January-June 2005," he says. "Fortunately, shipments to Japan during June were above year-earlier levels for the first time since November."