DENVER — U.S. pork exports set another all-time record in 2008, in part due to record-large exports to China and Russia. But U.S. Meat Export Federation economist Erin Daley said these two markets might present more of a challenge in 2009.

"Pork was a pacesetter for U.S. red-meat exports during 2008 achieving a 17th consecutive record-setting year, with value up 55% to nearly $4.9 billion," Ms. Daley said. "The U.S. is currently the largest U.S pork exporter in the world."

When looking at U.S. pork exports as a percent of production, about one in four hogs —or 25% — were exported last year. "The China/Hong Kong region emerged as number 2 market for U.S. pork in 2008, but those numbers are not likely going to be reached during 2009 mainly due to the increase in domestic Chinese production as we have already seen an increase of about 6%," Ms. Daley said. "We’ve seen the breeding-sow population increase by 12%, according to Chinese statistics."

The profitability of Chinese producers will largely determine how much production continues to grow in that country. "Long-term, we’re very optimistic about China as a future market, but for 2009 the numbers will likely be much smaller than 2008."

Other export areas of concern for 2009 include Russia. "On the market-access side, Russia de-listed 33 U.S. pork facilities and roughly 50% of U.S. slaughter capacity is not eligible for Russia at this point," Ms. Daley said. "This comes at a time when we have seen a dramatic decline in oil prices and the Russian economic growth possibly shrinking to -2%, at best. We have difficult demand conditions combined with market-access issues that could make exports to this important market a challenge this year."

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