WASHINGTON – US exports of pork in April topped a previous record high set in 2016, the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) said in its latest red meat export report.

In April, pork export volume was 230,049 metric tons (mt), up 13 percent from a year ago and topping the previous record set in November 2016, USMEF said. The value for April pork exports also advanced 13 percent to $584.1 million.

Mexico set the pace for pork export gains with volume reaching 79,019 mt, which represents a 34 percent increase compared with a year ago and the second-largest on record. Export value to Mexico jumped 28 percent to $134.1 million. For the first four months of 2018, exports to Mexico were 7 percent above the 2017 record volume pace at 282,675 mt, with value up 6 percent to $505.4 million, USMEF said.

But weighing on the future performance of pork exports to Mexico are retaliatory tariffs on imports of most US pork products that became effective on June 5. USMEF said the tariff rate on chilled and frozen pork muscle cuts is 10 percent until July 5, when it is set to increase to 20 percent.

“The outstanding April performance for pork exports to Mexico really underscores the importance of this market to the US industry and how it has been such a reliable trading partner for hams, picnics and other pork cuts,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “USMEF will continue to emphasize the quality and consistency of US pork to red meat customers in Mexico and make every effort to help US suppliers retain their business. But make no mistake about it, the US industry is going to have to fend off competitors who suddenly have a significant tariff rate advantage and see a clear opening into the Mexican market.”

South Korea also was a bright spot for US pork exports. In April, volume increased 74 percent to 25,370 mt while value surged 81 percent to $74.1 million which represents a significant increase from a year ago, according to USMEF. Through April, US pork exports to Korea are on a record pace, climbing 44 percent in volume to 94,888 mt, valued at $276.1 million (up 55 percent). USMEF attributed the growth to growing consumer demand and duty-free access under the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

Meanwhile, US pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region were below year-ago levels in April. However, shipments remained relatively strong despite an additional 25 percent tariff on US pork that took effect April 2, USMEF noted.

USMEF said the effect of the tariff will be more prominent in May export data because the tariff increase essentially tripled China’s standard rate on frozen pork imports, taking it from 12 percent to 37 percent. USMEF noted that the increase does not apply to Hong Kong, which still charges zero duty. US exports of pork in April to China/Hong Kong declined 14 percent to 41,567 mt while the value of pork exports to the region slipped only slightly to $95.9 million. For January through April, exports to China/Hong Kong were 15 percent compared to the year-ago period’s pace in volume (153,248 mt) but steady in value at $356.6 million.

“It is encouraging to see that pork volumes to China/Hong Kong held up fairly well in April, but the tariff disadvantage is still having a negative impact on the US industry and has pressured prices for key export items,” Halstrom said. “It’s another situation in which our competitors are capitalizing on the extra cost associated with importing US pork.”

Overall, US pork exports accounted for nearly 30 percent of total pork production in April, up from 28.4 percent a year ago, according to USMEF. The percentage of muscle cuts exported increased significantly to 25.8 percent from 23.5 percent. Through April, USMEF said, the percentage of total production exported was steady with last year at 27.4 percent, while muscle cuts jumped from 22.8 percent to 23.5 percent.

April pork export value averaged $58.45 per head slaughtered, up 6 percent from April 2017, while the January to April average increased 5 percent to $55.69, USMEF said.