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Pork imports from U.S. rise, exports to U.S. drop

(Resource News International) — Exports of fresh, chilled and frozen pork products to Canada from the U.S. have been steadily increasing and the gap between Canadian exports and U.S. imports was seen narrowing further, according to an official with the Canadian Pork Council.

“The amount of U.S. pork being imported into Canada has been steadily rising while shipments of Canadian pork into the U.S. has been slowly declining,” said Martin Rice, an executive director with the Canadian Pork Council.

The decline in Canadian pork products to the U.S. was partly linked to the decline in pork processing in Canada, as well as to Canadian producers who are finding it more profitable to ship their feeder pigs to the U.S. to farrow and finish them, Rice said.

“U.S. meat processors have also had great success in accessing the Canadian market with retail pork,” Rice said.

He said there are companies in Canada such as Costco that only purchase U.S. pork products and other retailers that buy both Canadian and U.S. product.

Rice was unsure whether the listeria outbreak experienced by Maple Leaf Foods had caused a consumer backlash against those pork products and in turn caused a shift to U.S. products at the retail sector.

“I can’t tell you for sure as the data on this is not yet available,” Rice said.

Cold on cuts

Meanwhile, the Canadian pork processing business model for the future seems to be not to get involved in fresh cuts. “That is already evident by the number of businesses which have already left the pork product business,” he said.

During calendar year 2007, Canadian imports of U.S. pork were very close to 200,000 tonnes. Canadian pork product exports to the U.S. during 2007, meanwhile, was 353,000 tonnes, Rice said.

With fewer pigs to process in Canada, Rice projected that Canadian exports of pork into the U.S. would decline to below 300,000 tonnes, while imports of U.S. pork remain constant at around 200,000 tonnes if not a bit higher.

Canadian pork product exports to the U.S. during calendar year 2005 were around 400,000 tonnes, Rice said. Imports of U.S. pork, meanwhile, were only 122,000 tonnes.

“One can see how the gap has narrowed in and it appears it will only narrow in further in the years ahead,” Rice said.

Canada’s pork exports offshore have remained steady, Rice said, but U.S. processors have also been very aggressive on the world market and have been making huge inroads with importing countries.

“The U.S. processors have been providing product in quantities and have been very consistent with delivery that their customers expect and require,” Rice said.

“Certainly there has been a bit more focus by Canadian processors in trying to keep their offshore markets rather than maintaining its U.S. market share.”

The U.S. used to account for 80 per cent of Canada’s pork exports, but that number has declined to around 35 to 39 per cent, he said.

Rice predicted Canada’s offshore market share for pork products will decline further, especially as the production of hogs in Canada still has to undergo a further contraction yet.

Hog slaughter capacity in Canada as of November 2007 totalled around 455,000 head a week, Rice said. Capacity in November 2006 was 500,000 head a week.

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