Exports of U.S. pork to all destinations in 2021 declined modestly at 3% compared to 2020, but export volume in 2021 was still the second largest on record. U.S. pork production declined 2% in 2021 to 27.7 billion pounds, so pork exports, at just over 7 billion pounds, equated to 25% of U.S. production. Net pork exports, which account for the quantity of pork imported into the U.S., were the equivalent of 21% of U.S. pork production, somewhat lower than the 22% net export figure for 2020.
Although net exports fell below the prior year in 2021, the long-term transition of the U.S. pork sector into an export-oriented industry continues unabated. Twenty years ago, net exports of pork from the U.S. totaled just 3% of U.S. production. This stands in contrast with the last decade, when net pork exports consistently exceeded 15% of U.S. production, breaking through the 20% barrier for the first time in 2020.
When pounds of pork exported are compared over time, the result is even more astounding. In 2001, net pork exports from the U.S. were just a little over 600 million pounds. In 2020, net pork exports were more than 10 times that, reaching 6.4 billion pounds before falling back to 5.9 billion pounds in 2021.
Where the U.S. exports pork continues shifting over time as well. Exports to China, the world’s largest pork producer, fluctuate the most from one year to the next as production levels and economic conditions in China ebb and flow. As recently as 2017 and 2018, pork exports to China represented less than 10% of all U.S. pork exports.
Effects of African swine fever
With African swine fever devastating China’s pork sector in 2019 and 2020, imports of pork from the U.S. into China surged. Mainland China and Hong Kong combined took 17% and 29% of all U.S. pork exports in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
China remained an important U.S. pork consumer in 2021 but did drop back to absorbing just 17% of U.S. pork exports as its domestic pork production rebounded. The biggest U.S. pork customer in 2021 was Mexico, with shipments totaling 29% of all U.S. pork exports, up from 22% the year before.
The top five customers for U.S. pork in 2021 were Mexico, Japan, China, Canada and South Korea, respectively. Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, it looks like U.S. pork export prospects will depend on economic strength in importing countries as well as what takes place concerning disease-related production disruptions. Long term, the U.S. pork sector continues to be well-positioned to be a dominant exporter.
Mintert is a Purdue Extension agricultural economist and director of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture. He writes from West Lafayette, Ind.