U.S. Pork Exports Reach New Heights in Korea

2018 was a record-breaking year for U.S. pork exports to South Korea. With November and December data still to be compiled, export volume (191,610 metric tons) and value ($538.4 million) have already shattered previous highs set in 2011. At that time Korea was battling a rash of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, leading to the culling of about one-third of its domestic swine herd and very tight pork supplies.

The current environment is very different, as Korea’s pork production edged higher last year and imports also increased from most foreign suppliers. But Jihae Yang, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Korea director, explains that U.S. pork still gained significant market share because customers see the U.S. industry as a reliable supplier of high-quality, competitively priced products.

She notes that while raw material for further processing makes up most of the U.S. export volume to Korea, U.S. Boston butt is very popular with restaurant operators and U.S. processed pork is a popular ingredient in home meal replacement items. Exports of U.S. pork variety meat – including feet and bungs – also increased sharply last year.

Most U.S. pork enters Korea at zero duty under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and continues to enjoy duty-free status under the revised version of that agreement that took effect this year. This is an important factor in the price-competitiveness of U.S. pork.

Note: Export data is only available through October due to the partial government shutdown. November data would normally be compiled by now, with year-end data following by early February.