DENVER — U.S. pork exports to Japan surpassed $1.5 billion in 2008, a 34% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the value over a five-year period. The U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.) said 2009 is another banner year for U.S. pork exports in Japan as they have increased another 3% in value through the first three quarters of the year.

Looking ahead to 2010, Philip Seng, U.S.M.E.F. president and chief executive officer, said he sees room for further growth for the U.S regarding its number-one overseas pork market — Japan.

"I think there is room for further growth for a couple of reasons," he added. "One is this year they have had very strong production — their production is up about 5.7%. We don’t see that being the case going into the next year — as that was the result of the circle virus and a reduction they had in 2008 that helped generate more pork exports on our part to that market."

There are also "markets within markets" in Japan, he continued. "Everything we deal with in Japan is in the billions of dollars," Mr. Seng said. "So, whether it’s the foodservice or retail market, there are different segments within those markets we can exploit."

Mr. Seng doesn’t feel the recent increase of Japan’s pork production is sustainable, in part, because of the demographics of that nation’s hog farmers.

"The average age of the population of their farmers now is about 64 years old, which means they are getting ready to retire and there are not a lot of younger people coming into it," he said. "The consolidation and depletion of farms is happening at a very dramatic pace, which means their production still is having a hard time keeping up [with demand]."