KANSAS CITY, Mo. — U.S. pork exports remained strong last year, exceeding $6 billion for the third consecutive year, although down from the record level set in 2012.

As 2013 drew to a close, 4.73 billion pounds of pork and pork variety meats valued at $6.05 billion had been exported, down 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, from 2012.

“Checkoff investments in helping tear down trade barriers and promote U.S. pork with international consumers are crucial to growing the revenue we enjoy from exports,” said Brian Zimmerman, chair of the Pork Checkoff’s trade committee and a Beatrice, Neb., producer. “In 2013, 26 percent of U.S. pork and pork variety meat was exported, which added nearly $54 per hog marketed.”

U.S. pork exports ended 2013 on a positive note with strong exports in December, demonstrating upward momentum going into 2014.

Mexico, Central and South America and the ASEAN region posted particularly strong results to bring the month’s totals up slightly from levels of a year ago. In addition, through December total exports to South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were the highest of the year.

“Even though we saw a decrease in some markets in 2013, we continue to see incredible export opportunities,” Zimmerman said. “An increase in the global population and a growing middle class in countries that enjoy pork give pig farmers a bright outlook. We expect demand to continue to grow in the year ahead.”

Current negotiations for two additional free trade agreements — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — could positively impact U.S. pork exports.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could open and expand markets in the Asia Pacific region, with high potential to increase exports to Japan, Vietnam and Australia. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement with the European Union, also could greatly increase U.S. pork sales.

During 2013, more than 100 countries around the world bought U.S. pork.

The top five markets in total pounds of pork exported were: Mexico, 1.4 billion pounds; Japan, 937 million pounds; China and Hong Kong, 920 million pounds; Canada, 501 million pounds; and Central and South America, 268 million pounds.

The top five markets in total-dollar value exported were: Japan, $1.885 billion; Mexico, $1.22 billion; China and Hong Kong, $903 million; Canada, $844 million; and Central and South America, $306 million.

Meanwhile, demand at home also grew by 5.6 percent in 2013. According to calculations from Pork Checkoff economist Steve Meyer, domestic real per capita expenditures increased nearly every month in 2013.

Consumer education about the value and versatility of pork, the adoption of new pork cut names and reinforcement of pork’s ideal cooking temperature were the Pork Checkoff’s key consumer messages.

The new porterhouse pork chop, ribeye pork chop and New York pork chop were specifically featured in a summer marketing campaign.

“New domestic product marketing opportunities combined with growing interest from Mexico, Japan and China — our top three global markets — is helping U.S. pork farmers introduce quality pork to consumers down the street and around the globe,” Zimmerman said.