Pork exports strong in first quarter

U.S. pork exports finished the first quarter 8% higher in volume (598,058 metric tons) and 20% higher in value ($1.66 billion) than last year’s record pace, according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

At the same time, the value of beef exports for the quarter rose 4% (to $1.25 billion) on 10% lower volumes (266,388 metric tons).

March pork export volume of 198,972 metric tons was 8% lower than a year ago, but up 6% from February 2012. Export value of $570.5 million was 3% higher than last year and up 8% from the previous month. These results were led by excellent growth in the China/Hong Kong region and by strong performance in Mexico, Japan and Canada.

Beef export volume in March of 89,803 metric tons was 23% lower than last year but up 3% from February. March export value of $438.5 million was down 8% year-over-year but was 7% higher than the previous month.

“A 20% increase in pork export value for the first quarter is extraordinary, especially considering the record performance of last year,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “On the beef side, market access issues and price sensitivity are making volume growth difficult in some markets, but we are pleased to see export value remaining above last year’s record pace, even on smaller volumes.”


Pork export value per head sets new monthly record

March pork export value was particularly strong on a per-head-slaughtered basis, reaching $59.92. This was nearly $4 higher than a year ago and set a new monthly record, surpassing the previous high of $59.53 set in November 2011. Exports equated to 27.8% of total U.S. production of muscle cuts plus variety meat, and 24% when including muscle cuts only.

Mexico remains the leading market for U.S. pork on a volume basis, with first quarter exports up 17% in both volume (162,721 metric tons) and value ($299.7 million). Exports to Japan, which nearly reached the $2 billion mark in 2011, were up just 1% in volume (122,899 metric tons) but also achieved a 17% increase in value to $530.6 million. Exports to the China Hong/Kong region, which came on very strong in the second half of 2011, were 30% higher in volume in the first quarter (115,642 metric tons) and surged 82% in value to $234.9 million.

Other first quarter market highlights included:

  • Exports to Canada were up 26% in volume (55,916 metric tons) and were one-third higher in value at just under $200 million.
  • In Russia, where U.S. pork now has better potential for expansion under a global tariff rate quota, exports were up 20% in volume (15,510 metric tons) and 36% in value ($47.9 million).
  • Led by a strong performance in Colombia, exports to the Central and South America region expanded 9% in volume (20,603 metric tons) and 16% in value ($53.5 million).

In South Korea, pork exports surged in the early months of 2011 because of culling of the domestic swine herd (due to foot-and-mouth disease) and a temporary duty-free tariff rate quota for some cuts of imported pork. Consequently, year-over-year exports to Korea were lower in the first quarter of 2012 – down 27% in volume (53,590 metric tons) and 12% in value ($154 million). It is important to note, however, that these totals were still more than double the volume and triple the value recorded in the first quarter of 2010.

“While domestic supplies are recovering in Korea, we are still creating new opportunities for U.S. pork.” Seng said. “The lower tariffs made possible by the Korea-U.S. FTA will enhance the competitiveness of U.S. pork in terms of price, and help us further expand the presence of chilled pork and value-added pork products in the retail and foodservice sectors. These marketing strategies have proven very effective in Japan, and I believe we can have similar success across north Asia.”

While beef export volume slows in some markets, value remains solid

March beef export value equated to $204.65 per fed steer and heifer slaughtered, down slightly from the March 2011 total of $205.40. Beef exports accounted for 12% of total U.S. production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat, and 9% for muscle cuts only. These ratios were lower than a year ago (15% and 11%, respectively).

Despite a 13% decline in volume, Mexico remained the leading destination for U.S. beef (55,725 metric tons) and exports to Mexico managed a 5% increase in value to $250.9 million. Export volume to Canada was steady with last year at 36,834 metric tons, but 15% higher in value at $215.4 million.

In Japan, where the Food Safety Commission continues to examine BSE-related age and product restrictions on U.S. beef, exports were down 7% in volume (29,695 metric tons) but up 10% in value ($194 million). The United States continues to gain market share, as Australia’s exports to Japan have fallen 14% in 2012.

Other first quarter market highlights included:


  • Exports to Russia reflected a shift toward higher-value muscle cuts, as volume increased 4% to 14,463 metric tons but volume surged 85% to $59.9 million. As with pork, U.S. beef faces a more favorable access situation in Russia as the U.S. tariff rate quota for muscle cuts was expanded from 41,700 metric tons in 2011 to 60,000 metric tons this year.
  • While exports to some Middle East markets slowed, Egypt continued to post very strong results – increasing 12% in volume (31,466 metric tons) and 18% in value ($47.7 million). As a result, exports to the Middle East region were up slightly in volume (35,480 metric tons) and 10% in value ($78.9 million).
  • Led by outstanding results in Chile, exports to the Central and South America region increased 44% in volume (8,383 metric tons) and 94% in value ($32.5 million). Exports to Peru and Guatemala also posted impressive value growth.

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