Jihae Yang, director of USMEF-South Korea, said that for the past few years US exports to the country had experienced peaks and troughs, which can been driven by changing market conditions within Korea.
Yang reported that the first quarter of 2014 had been promising, with US pork exports to Korea increasing 15% in volume and 21% in value, to 40,143 metric tons (88.5 million pounds), and $116.2m, respectively.
The United States’ share of the Korean market has also increased, from 34.4% last year to 36.7%. While this increase is positive news, Yang said conditions within the country would make it challenging for all imported pork products in the months ahead.
The ferry disaster off the southern coast of Korea in mid-April led to a national state of mourning, which created a domino-like series of effects that continued to affect the pork industry, as well as the overall economy, explained Yang.
"The increase in pork purchases in Korea in the weeks leading up to the spring event season are largely sitting in cold storage, which will put a damper on near-term purchases. The overall downturn in economic activity has been attributed to "vicarious trauma", and the government is looking at steps to invigorate consumption, particularly to support the small and medium-sized businesses that are being affected," said Yang.
The presence of porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus (PEDv) in the country has also impacted the market, with an estimated 5.1% of piglets lost during the first quarter of 2014. However, according to the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI), domestic pork production is down 4% on 2013 levels – a decline considered "not significant".