Pork was the U.S. meat export success story in 2008, achieving 17 consecutive years of record growth, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

For December, total pork export volume rose nearly 20% over 2007, while export values climbed 19.2%.

As good as those gains were, 2008 as a whole shined brighter with pork export volume up 57% to more than 4.5 billion pounds and value up 55% to nearly $4.9 billion.

Mexico, the largest U.S. pork market in December, set a monthly record with 106.2 million pounds valued at $77 million. This represents a 16% increase in volume over the previous month and a 77% rise over December 2007. Mexico was the third-largest destination for U.S. pork in 2008, recording a 43% rise in volume to 874.4 million pounds and an increase of 54% in value to $691 million.

Japan retained its ranking as the largest market for U.S. pork with major gains in December, an increase of 16% in volume and 28% in value compared to December 2007. For the year, Japan imported 996.2 million pounds of pork valued at $1.5 billion – accounting for 31.6% of total U.S. pork export value in 2008.

Other pork export facts from the USMEF:

During 2008, 24.4% of U.S. pork production (including variety meat) was exported, compared to 16.5% in 2007.

The value per head exported was $42.31 compared to $29.16 in 2007.

Canada bought 15% more U.S. pork in 2008, at nearly 376 million pounds, worth $557.6 million, up 13%. Imports of Canadian hogs dropped 50% in January, with a corresponding increase in Canadian slaughter (up 15.8%) and pork production (up 9.9%), says Erin Daley, USMEF economist. “Live hog trade has been impacted by the weak Canadian dollar, making production in Canada more competitive,” she says.

South Korean imports of U.S. pork were steady in December, and for the year rose 34% to 294.4 million pounds valued at $284.5 million, up 23% over 2007.