DENVER – US pork exports in the first quarter of 2012 registered 8 percent growth in volume and 20 percent growth in value compared to the comparable period in 2011, according to data compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The US exported 598,058 metric tons of pork with a value of $1.66 billion, USMEF said.

“A 20 percent increase in pork export value for the first quarter is extraordinary, especially considering the record performance of last year,” said Phili Seng, USMEF president and chief executive officer. “On the beef side, market access issues and price sensitivity are making volume growth difficult in some markets, but we are pleased to see export value remaining above last year’s record pace, even on smaller volumes.”

Pork export value was particularly strong in March, according to USMEF. On a per-head-slaughtered basis, pork export value reached $59.92, an increase of roughly $4 compared to a year ago and a new monthly record surpassing the previous high of $59.53 set in November 2011. USMEF said exports accounted for 27.8 percent of total US production of muscle cuts plus variety meat, and 24 percent when including muscle cuts only.

First quarter exports to Mexico advanced 17 percent in both volume (162,721 metric tons) and value ($299.7 million), maintaining Mexico’s position as the leading market for US pork on a volume basis. Exports to Japan climbed 1 percent in volume (122,899 metric tons) and achieved a 17 percent increase in value to $530.6 million, according to USMEF. Exports to the China Hong/Kong region, which came on very strong in the second half of 2011, increased 30 percent in volume in the first quarter (115,642 metric tons) and surged 82 percent in value to $234.9 million.

Year-over-year exports to Korea were lower in the first quarter of 2012 – down 27 percent in volume (53,590 metric tons) and 12 percent in value ($154 million), USMEF said. In 2011, exports to South Korea surged in the early months of 2011 on culling of the domestic swine herd due to foot-and-mouth disease and a temporary duty-free tariff rate quota for some cuts of imported pork.

However, the totals for 2012 are still more than double the volume and triple the value recorded in the first quarter of 2010, according to USMEF.

“While domestic supplies are recovering in Korea, we are still creating new opportunities for US pork,” Seng said. “The lower tariffs made possible by the Korea-US FTA will enhance the competitiveness of US pork in terms of price, and help us further expand the presence of chilled pork and value-added pork products in the retail and foodservice sectors.

“These marketing strategies have proven very effective in Japan, and I believe we can have similar success across north Asia,” he added.