Pork exports to Mexico, Central America set record pace in 2023
Pork exports were strong in 2023 with leading market Mexico setting a record in just 11 months. January through November exports of U.S. pork to Mexico surpassed the annual record set in 2022, with volume increasing 13 percent year-over-year to 995,534 metric tons (mt), while value was 15 percent higher at $2.12 billion. (Full year data will be released in February.)
That demand for U.S. pork in Mexico is particularly impressive because of increased competition in the market during the past two years. Since mid-2021, Mexico has granted zero-duty access to all eligible suppliers, a policy that has been extended through 2024.
U.S. pork already enjoyed duty-free access courtesy of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), so the tariff elimination mainly benefited European and Brazilian pork, though pork imports from Brazil have been suspended since late November due to a court challenge to Mexico’s import procedures. Even with new players in the arena, the U.S. share of Mexico’s imported pork market increased in 2023, reaching 84 percent.
The story is similar in Central America, led by growth in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Through the first 11 months of 2023, pork exports to Central America increased 15 percent to 119,348 mt at a value of $352.4 million, an increase of 20 percent.
The region is seeing rapid growth in demand for quality protein in both foodservice and retail, and U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) staff is working with partners to expand the availability and use of U.S. pork to meet that demand.
“We have been working with more than 800 decision makers around Mexico in order to work with them and introduce new options that they can use in their gastronomy through the U.S. Pork Truck,” said USMEF Director for Mexico and Central America Gerardo Rodriguez.
“These people can send information downstream through their establishments – in the restaurants and in their hotels – so the more information we can provide them and the more engaged that we can make them, the easier it is for us. And it is not just a matter of price. Once you understand the quality, the consistency and the benefit for your restaurant, price is not going to be the main driver.”
Members of the Indiana Soybean Alliance recently got a firsthand look at the surging U.S. pork demand in Central America with a daylong market visit in Panama City, Panama. USMEF Central America Representative Lucia Ruano and USDA Agricultural Attaché Pete Olson shared a market overview before leading the group on a tour of traditional markets, where most local production is sold, and modern retail outlets featuring U.S. pork products.
The group also visited with a family-owned importer who distributes U.S. meat cuts and value-added products to hotels, restaurants, butcher shops and upscale retail outlets in the region.
The strength in pork exports appears poised to continue well into 2024, providing support at a crucial time for the industry. Pork exports in 2023 created a record per head slaughtered value of $63.12, up 4 percent from the previous year. Exports accounted for nearly 30 percent of all production last year.
Alongside partners like the Indiana Soybean Alliance, USMEF staff are working to not only build knowledge of U.S. pork but also expand the number of suppliers in the region to provide a strong structure for continued demand for the quality U.S. product.