Growth in pork sales to China led record U.S. pork exports in first quarter 2020

This bar chart shows U.S. pork exports to its top 5 markets: China-Hong Kong; Mexico; Japan; South Korea; Canada.

Errata: On June 4, 2020, the Chart of Note on growth in pork sales to China was reposted to correct a unit error in the text. U.S. pork exports during first quarter 2020 were corrected to 2 billion pounds. Pork sales to China, including Hong Kong, were corrected to 597 million pounds. The original graph was accurate.

Significantly larger pork sales to China boosted U.S. pork exports during first-quarter 2020 to a record-high volume of over 2 billion pounds. Sales to China (including Hong Kong) were a record 597 million pounds, up nearly fivefold, and more than 50 percent above earlier quarterly highs in 2008 and 2011. China/Hong Kong sales outpaced growth in pork exports to other top markets, which include Mexico, Japan, and Canada. China/Hong Kong was the top export market, accounting for almost 30 percent of first-quarter U.S. pork exports. The export boom is driven by a shortfall in China’s pork output, following an African swine fever (ASF) epidemic that shrank China’s swine herds by 40 percent or more during 2018-19. China’s COVID-19 lockdown, from January through March 2020, further constrained supplies. According to official Chinese data, the country’s first-quarter 2020 pork output was down almost 30 percent from a year earlier—a 9.3-billion-pound decline—and consumer prices for pork were up more than 122 percent. Robust sales to China are expected to continue. According to official statistics for March 2020, China’s swine herd was still more than 29 percent smaller than before the epidemic. Even if China avoids new ASF outbreaks and succeeds in rebuilding production capacity, biological lags in sow gestation and growth of finished hogs will delay China’s restoration of domestic pork supplies until 2021 or later. Exemptions to punitive tariffs imposed on U.S. pork were granted beginning in March 2020, giving a further boost to Chinese purchases. This chart was drawn from the Economic Research Service’s May 2020 Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report. The topic is also discussed in the February 2020 Amber Waves article, "African Swine Fever Shrinks Pork Production in China, Swells Demand for Imported Pork."

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