WASHINGTON – The country world-famous for jamón this year became the leading supplier of pork to the world’s largest consumer of pork products.

Spain has focused on improving access to global markets, and the work has paid off as the country became the leading pork supplier to the Chinese market and fourth leading supplier to Japan, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture said its latest GAIN report from Madrid.

Pork exports from Spain remained stable from January to July, FAS said, while values increased 14 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In 2016, Spanish pork exports to China advanced 96 percent reaching 252,543 metric tons with a corresponding increase in value, making China the most important destination for Spanish pork and Spain the second largest pork supplier to China, according to FAS.

“Spanish pork exports to Japan continue its upward trend with 31 percent growth in volume and 37 percent in value, resulting in the second Spanish pork destination in value terms,” the agency said in its report.

In addition to China, Spain pork exports have expanded in Eastern Europe and other Asian countries including South Korea (+39 percent with 63,325 MT and +36 percent in value), Hong Kong (+46 percent with 29,081 MT and +68 percent in value), Philippines (+42 percent with 26,004 MT and +61 percent in value), Taiwan (+69 percent with 18,007 MT and +75 percent in value),Vietnam (+75 percent with 4,529 MT and +103 in value), and in North America to the United States (+59 percent with 6,168 MT and +45 percent in value) and Canada (+111 percent with 4,474 MT and +117 percent in value).

Pork exports from Spain are expected to slightly increase for the remainder of 2017, then becoming flat in 2018. Factors that may weigh on Spanish pork exports outside the EU include higher global pork production and stronger competition with the United States and Brazil, according to the report.

Data from the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), shows that US pork exports to China/Hong Kong declined 8 percent in volume (373,814 metric tons) and eased 1 percent in value from January to September. However, exports of pork variety meats pushed the January-September results up 11 percent year-over-year in volume (243,016 metric tons) and 22 percent in value ($534.8 million).

Spain has the largest swine herd in the European Union accounting for more than 19 percent of total swine in the EU, according to Eurostat data. Spain also is the second-largest pork producer in the EU, accounting for 17.5 percent of total production.