US Pork Exports a Bright Spot for Producers

US producers benefit from pork consumption growth in export markets.

by Dan Halstrom, President and CEO, United States Meat Export Federation

Broad-based growth in pork exports continues to provide a measure of hope for pork producers in 2024, amid historically challenging market conditions in hog production.

Export demand provides pricing support for the pork industry, particularly for items that are underutilized domestically. International demand for US pork is growing, especially in countries with which the United States has free trade agreements.

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) projects that US pork exports will outpace chicken exports by 2028 and will continue to do so through at least its projection period ending in 2033.

This will make pork the United States’ most-exported protein, having surpassed beef exports since 2004. Efficiency gains in US hog production and pork processing are expected to continue to enhance the sector’s international competitiveness.

US pork competes with European, Canadian, Brazilian, and Chilean pork, but US exporters are viewed as reliable suppliers. As well, the US holds a comparative advantage through its grain resources, proximity to Latin American markets, existing free trade agreements, and the supply of a range of cuts (especially hams, butts, picnics, and variety meats).

According to ERS, European Union policies and other headwinds have reduced the growth of that region’s pork production and exports, and the US is projected to surpass the EU as the world’s leading pork exporter in 2025.

US Pork Exports Set an Annual Value Record in 2023

Led by robust growth in the Western Hemisphere and a rebound in the US market share in Asia and Oceania, US pork exports set a value record in 2023, according to year-end data released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

graph showing us pork and variety of meat exports
US Pork Exports Set an Annual Value Record in 2023

Annual volume and value records were set in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Malaysia, as well as value records in Central America and Colombia. Exports to South Korea were the third largest on record and second highest in value, while shipments to Australia and New Zealand were the largest since 2020.

The export value per head slaughtered also set an annual record of nearly $64, with more than $11 per head attributed to the variety meat exports.

The United States exports a wide range of pork products, and perhaps the greatest contribution comes from international purchases of ‘underutilized’ products, where production exceeds domestic demand, including bone-in hams, picnics, variety meats, bone by-products, and pork cuts that are unfamiliar to the vast majority of American consumers.

But a growing share of loins and ribs are also being exported as international customers experience and have preferences for a wider range of US pork cuts. For some of these items, international demand prevents these items from being rendered or ground into lower-value products.

Exports also help smooth domestic marketing cycles by providing sales channels during lower consumption periods in the US.

  • US pork export value was a record $8.16 billion in 2023, up six percent.
  • Exports accounted for a record share of US total pork production, just under 30 percent.
  • Pork export value was $64 a head, up four percent and an annual record. More than $11 a head attributed to pork variety meat was also a record.

Industry Partnerships Drive Pork Export Development

Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, the USMEF implements market development programs for US red meat in nearly 100 countries. The USMEF is a unique collaboration of diverse industry sectors and is funded through membership dues, agricultural commodity checkoff programs, and market development programs through the USDA.

USMEF collaborates with the National Pork Producers Council, the Meat Institute, USDA, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to address trade barriers and improve global market access for U.S. pork.

USMEF Heatland Team
Pork industry collaboration and producer participation are critical to export success. Photo courtesy of the USMEF.

“To ensure long-term success for pork exports, the US must aggressively engage in proactive trade policy, including trade agreements to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade, both tariff and non-tariff,” stated Erin Borror, Vice President of Economic Analysis, USMEF. “The US must also continue to lead, endorse, and facilitate rules-based trade.”

Trade Agreements Boost Pork Consumption

For the pork industry, a strong correlation exists between free trade agreements and increasing pork consumption. While pork consumption growth creates opportunities for exporter countries, growth also benefits domestic pork producers and consumers, most of whom have greater access to affordable, high-quality protein.

Free trade agreements stimulate economic development, accelerate the development of the middle class, and boost demand for upgraded proteins such as US pork.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” added Borror. “In some of the top destinations for US pork exports, domestic production has also achieved excellent growth, fueled by rising consumption.”

A closer look at three growth markets for US pork highlights the correlation between free trade agreements and per capita growth in pork consumption.


US pork exports to Mexico in 2023 were a record 1.1 million metric tons (mt), up 14 percent year-over-year, valued at a record $2.35 billion, up 15 percent. While pork muscle cuts accounted for more than 85 percent of the export volume to Mexico, pork variety meats posted impressive gains in 2023, climbing 28 percent to 159,508 mt, valued at $302 million (up 34 percent).

graph showing mexico's pork consumption
Mexico’s Pork Consumption Per Capita

Mexico’s surging demand for US pork is especially impressive because the market has attracted new competition over the past two years. Since mid-2022, Mexico has granted zero-duty access to all eligible pork, beef, and poultry suppliers, and this policy has been extended through 2024. US pork has zero-duty access through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Even with new players in the arena, the US share of Mexico’s imported pork market reached 84 percent in 2023.

In addition to the strong demand for imported pork in Mexico, the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) reported that Mexico’s pork production had reached new heights.

The primary factor underpinning Mexico’s strong demand for US pork in recent years is its growth in per capita pork consumption. USMEF estimated that Mexico’s per capita pork consumption increased roughly 40 percent from 2010 to 2023.

South Korea

US pork exports to South Korea closed last year with excellent momentum, pushing 2023 exports nine percent above the previous year at 191,262 mt, the third-largest on record. Export value was the second highest on record at $633.4 million (up four percent).

graph showing korea's pork consumption
Korea’s Pork Consumption Per Capita

The US industry is achieving this growth at a time when the Korean pork market is exceptionally competitive. Domestic pork production is at a record level, and last year Korea imported larger volumes of Canadian, Mexican, and Brazilian pork. This was due in part to tariff rate quotas that gave some imports from these countries duty-free access—a status normally enjoyed only by US, European, and Chilean pork under their respective free trade agreements (Canada’s agreement entered into force later, but they are also phasing it to zero). US pork has zero-duty access through the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

What’s behind this competitive market? USMEF estimated that Korea’s per capita pork consumption also increased by 40 percent from 2010 to 2023. The US recaptured market share from European pork in Korea, with the US share of the imported pork market jumping from 26 percent in 2022 to 32 percent in 2023, and edged even higher (34 percent) in January 2024.


After a slow start to 2023, US pork shipments to Colombia regained momentum and reached 98,876 mt. While volume was down three percent from 2022, export value increased 10 percent to a record $272 million.

graph showing colombia's pork market
Colombia Pork Market, excludes variety meats

US pork exports to Colombia continue to grow, despite domestic pork production reaching record levels. In 2023, Colombia’s production climbed seven percent to 551,000 mt, easily outpacing the four percent growth forecasted by FAS. Colombia’s pork production has increased every year since 2009, making Colombia an excellent growth market for US feed grain. Colombia is now the fourth-largest export market for US corn, following Mexico, Japan, and China.

Colombia’s per capita pork consumption was record-high in 2023 at 10.3 kg (22.7 lbs.), but this is still relatively low and holds potential for substantial further growth. USMEF forecasts per capita consumption to increase by three percent per year over the near-to-medium-term outlook.

Diversification A Priority

While USMEF collaborates with the USDA and the pork industry to identify and prioritize international markets for development, diversification is a top priority.

The pork industry received good news in late 2023 as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans to utilize Commodity Credit Corporation funding to bolster support for agricultural exports. Over the next five years, the USDA’s new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP) is set to provide $1.2 billion to support eligible projects aimed at expanding exports into new markets and increasing market share in growth markets.

The first tranche of RAPP funding, which is expected to be activated in June 2024, will provide up to $300 million.

To promote diversification, promotions in China, the EU, Canada, and Mexico are not eligible for the first funding tranche, while the USDA has identified Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia as regions of emphasis.

The USMEF is often asked about emerging markets and the regions that hold promise for future growth because producers and other stakeholders understand the importance of reaching a broad range of export destinations. Because developing these markets requires time, patience, and resources, the red meat industry is excited to see the USDA make such a strong commitment to market diversification. For US pork, this is especially critical for enhancing the value of every cut and variety meat item and, in turn, maximizing the return on every head slaughtered.

Looking Ahead

US pork exports are critical to the bottom line of pork producers. As the industry looks to the future, there will be new opportunities and challenges associated with rapidly growing middle classes in Asia and Latin America, robust population increases, and emerging economic growth in Africa. The United States has unique comparative advantages due to our natural resources, research, and innovation, while our strong domestic market also serves as a foundation.

The USMEF must continue working with our industry and public partners to open new markets and expand existing destinations for US pork. We must also continue innovating to meet the world’s demand for high-quality pork while also enhancing sustainability.

Dan Halstrom

Dan Halstrom joined the USMEF in 2010, following 27 years in the meat industry with Swift & Company. He first served as USMEF Senior Vice President of Marketing, then assumed his current role as President and CEO in 2017. As the Senior Vice President of the International Division for Swift/JBS (2000–2010), Dan oversaw global beef and pork operations for the world’s largest red meat company. He was also an active member of USMEF for many years, including various volunteer positions and officer roles, which culminated in his becoming USMEF chairman in 2008. A graduate of the University of Iowa, Dan was born and raised near Cherokee, Iowa, on a 1,000-acre grain farm with a 3,000-head cattle backgrounding operation.