New data from the US Department of Agriculture shows that exports of pork increased in the month of April buoyed by higher demand from Asian countries even as other important pork markets fell. In total, the US exported over 200,000 metric tons of pork in April, which was an increase of 4% on an annual basis, and the highest monthly export volume since March 2014.
Despite the large volume of exports, the overall value was still down by 14% compared to 2014 due to lower pork prices and the higher value of the dollar against several Asian currencies. This news comes after months of falling prices and demand from the Asian region amidst growing inventory on US farms.
Several Asian nations saw a steep rise in total import of pork from the US even as other markets faltered: the total value of exports to Asia rose from $188 million in January to $274 million in April, an increase of 46%. Asia’s share of total American pork exports rose from about 50% in January to 61% in April. Overall, Mexico still leads in total tonnage of imports to date at over 188,000 metric tons, but thanks to a stronger dollar compared to the Japanese yen and higher overall prices, Japan is ahead in terms of the total value so far this year at $625 million compared to Mexico’s $390 million.
For several states, this is an encouraging sign. The pork industry is a major job creator in numerous states. In 2013, Iowa alone generated $511 million and about 12,600 jobs from the export of pork. Other pork-producing states like Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, and Minnesota each generate more than $130 million and about 4,000 jobs from exports. A strong export market in Asia certainly helps support these states’ industries.
Experts are very optimistic about the export market in Asia. As the region continues to expand its middle class, there will be a larger demand for pork. In particular, experts see a bright future in ASEAN’s markets. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, if negotiations are finalized and agreed upon by all of the current participants, may also open up markets and reduce barriers for American farmers. In response to growing demand in Asia, some US states have tried to promote exports to Asia through cultural partnerships or trade missions.
Even on the back of good news, the US pork industry is still projected to export less pork this year than it did in 2014. But with demand going up again as pork prices remain low, American exporters can expect to remain competitive abroad.
Clarence Cabanero is a recent graduate of American University and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington.