From the street classics banh mi and bun cha to Tet-favorites thit kho hot vit and banh tet, many of the well-loved dishes in Vietnam are made of pork — fried, grilled, smoked or fermented. A Vietnamese family dinner is never complete without pork on the plate.
Pork accounts for three-quarters of the total meat consumption in Vietnam, most of which were sourced domestically, at least until 2019, when the country confirmed its struggle with the African swine fever.
ASF had spread to all 63 provinces by 2019 and caused a total loss of six million pigs, or about 22% of Vietnam’s total swine herd. Though the cases subsided in 2020, animal health officials and the swine industry continued to battle occasional outbreaks. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that Vietnam lost or culled at least 43,000 pigs from January to August last year, leading to a decline in pork production and an unprecedented pork price crisis.
The Vietnamese people’s appetite for pork, however, never abated.
The current situation in Vietnam’s pork industry presents opportunities for countries with growing pork production, such as the US. The National Pork Producers Council (NPCC) of the US said that while it’s focused on numerous markets, Vietnam represents one of the best near-term export opportunities.
According to an article from National Hog Farmer, “The country (Vietnam) is in need of affordable, reliable pork, yet US pork producers are hamstrung by unwarranted tariff and non-tariff barriers, allowing global competitors to take advantage of the supply shortfall”.
Last week, more than 70 American lawmakers sent a letter to the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, urging her support for enhanced market access for US pork producers in Vietnam.
“Vietnam presents a tremendous opportunity for US pork exporters,” the lawmakers wrote. Last year, Vietnam imported only 25,000 metric tons (MT) of U.S. pork, while Mexico, the second largest importer of U.S. pork by volume, imported 735,000 MT.
Last year, Vietnam addressed the US pork tariff disadvantage by temporarily reducing tariff rates from 15% to 10% for frozen US pork products. This led to exports doubling from July to December, compared to the first half of the year.
Muscle cut exports climbed nearly 500% year-over-year to 21,676 MT. With muscle cuts making up a much higher percentage of the product mix, total export value to Vietnam reached more than $50 million.
However, the tariff rate returned to 15% on January 1, putting the US back at a significant disadvantage.
“The surge in exports during the tariff reprieve, coupled with Vietnam’s growing population and cultural preference for high-quality pork, demonstrates that the United States is barely scratching the surface of its export potential to Vietnam,” the lawmakers outlined to Tai.
Vietnam customs statistics showed that the country imported more than 141,000 tonnes of pork worth $334.4 million in 2020, a rise of 382% and 500% over the previous year.
The pork was mainly imported from Brazil, Russia, Poland, the US and Canada. Brazil was the largest exporter, accounting for 24.5% of the import volume.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development approved 25 countries to export livestock and poultry meat to Vietnam, including more than 800 enterprises allowed to export pork to the country. Vietnam imported more than 43,300 pigs for breeding, mainly from Thailand, Canada, the US, Denmark and Taiwan.