Spring exports of U.S. beef and pork edged up but still lagged behind a year ago, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
While the overall trend for exports remains sluggish, driven by market access issues and oversupply of domestic product in key markets, several leading trading partners showed positive signs in April. Beef exports to Japan were up sharply as the island nation regained its ranking as the No. 1 market for U.S. beef for the first time since 2003. At the same time, Hong Kong maintained its rapid growth pace and Taiwan continued its rebound from beta agonist-related issues that slowed exports last year.
While the boost in exports to Japan is encouraging — up 49% in volume and 44% in value versus the first four months of 2012 — USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng cautioned that Japan has a safeguard in place that will increase tariffs if beef import volumes rise too quickly. This safeguard, which was utilized by Japan in 2003 under similar circumstances, remains an important consideration for U.S. exporters and Japanese importers.
On the pork side, Mexico showed double-digit growth in April after a slow start to the year while Central/South America, the ASEAN region and the Caribbean all grew 30% or more for the month. U.S. lamb sales were also up sharply to leading export markets.
April beef export volume of 86,433 metric tons (mt) was down 9% from a year ago and export value was down 7% to $434.8 million. For January through April, beef exports were 2% higher in value ($1.75 billion) despite a 5% decline in volume (343,020 mt). April pork exports totaled 174,073 mt valued at $475.1 million – down 5% and 7%, respectively, from a year ago. Through the first four months of the year, pork exports were 10% below last year’s pace in both volume (702,268 mt) and value ($1.96 billion).
Russia’s suspension of imports of U.S. beef and pork, which officially closed the market Feb. 11, continues to hamper overall performance. USMEF estimates this trade impasse, which is related to Russia’s enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy for beta agonist use, has cost the U.S. industry about $97 million in beef export value and $58 million in pork export value so far in 2013.
“Along with our lack of access to sell beef in mainland China, this is the biggest barrier we face in terms of market access,” Seng said. “One often overlooked factor is the effect this suspension has on the price U.S. products command in markets other than Russia. For example, beef livers to Egypt have increased in volume, but the value is down. There is also downward pressure on the prices offered for rounds, hams and pork for further processing. The impact is much broader than many analysts realize at first glance.”
Through April, beef exports equated to 9% of U.S. muscle cut production and 12% including variety meat — down from last year’s ratios of 9.6% and 12.7%. Export value equated to $217.54 per head of fed slaughter, up 3% from the same period last year.
Pork exports accounted for 21% of muscle cut production and 25.3% including variety meat. This is down from 24.6% and 28%, respectively, during the first four months of 2012. Export value for the first four months of 2013 equated to $52.72 per head slaughtered, down from last year’s pace of $58.84.
Japan regains top ranking among beef export destinations
The U.S. beef industry continues to capitalize on its recently expanded access to Japan. With April exports more than doubling last year’s performance, exports to Japan moved 49% higher in volume (59,969 mt) and 44% higher in value ($382.3 million) for the year. This made Japan the leading destination for U.S. beef in both volume and value, overtaking Canada.
U.S. beef exports to Canada slowed in April, though volume (55,485 mt, up10%) and value ($355,321, up 15%) remained higher for the year. Exports to Hong Kong, which also recently expanded access for U.S. beef to include bone-in cuts and some products from cattle over 30 months of age, soared by 87% in volume (27,965 mt) and 79% in value ($158.6 million) in the first four months of the year. Taiwan also continues to perform extremely well in 2013, with exports beating last year’s pace by 84% in volume (10,841 mt) and 129% in value ($84.6 million).
In addition to the Russia closure, beef exports were hampered by slow demand in Mexico and South Korea.
Pork exports to Mexico show signs of recovery
While January-April pork exports to Mexico were down 8% in both volume (190,464 mt) and value ($345.7 million) compared to last year, April proved to be a very strong month as volume (52,958 mt) increased 19% and value ($92.9 million) was up 20%. Other markets in the Western Hemisphere also performed extremely well in the first four months of 2013, including:
- Canada, where exports were up 4% in volume (74,817 mt) and 3% in value ($265 million) over last year’s record pace.
- Improved market access resulting from the recent free trade agreement helped push exports to Colombia significantly higher in both volume (7,823 mt, up 71%) and value ($20.3 million, up 56%), making it the leading destination in the Central/South America region.
- Exports to Chile continued to expand, increasing 28% in volume (7,349 mt) and 33% in value ($19.6 million).
- In the Dominican Republic, exports climbed 18% in volume (5,556 mt) and 22% in value ($12.9 million). Variety meat exports to the Dominican Republic actually declined, so this performance was driven by impressive growth in muscle cut demand.
“It is gratifying to see U.S. pork performing so well in our neighboring markets, and the April recovery in Mexico was especially critical,” Seng said. “The strong results in Mexico and Canada really underscore the importance of resolving our issues with country-of-origin labeling so that our exports don’t face retaliatory measures from these trading partners.”
Mexico drives U.S. lamb export value higher
January-April exports of U.S. lamb increased 3% in volume (4,368 mt) and 22% in value ($10 million) from a year ago, led by strong results in Mexico. Exports to Mexico increased only slightly in volume (3,192 mt) but posted a 32% increase in value to $5.4 million. Global exports of lamb variety meat, a key contributor to carcass value, increased 18% in volume (3,025 mt) and 35% in value ($3.9 million), led by a strong performance in Canada and the Middle East.