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Global demand for U.S. beef continues to soar, pork exports below last year

Christian Fernsby |
U.S. beef exports posted another strong performance in February, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), led by excellent value growth in key Asian and Latin American markets.

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Pork exports trended lower year-over-year, as larger shipments to Mexico and Japan did not offset the continued decline in demand from China/Hong Kong. Lamb exports continued to gain momentum, reaching the highest monthly value since 2014.

Beef exports totaled 108,501 metric tons (mt) in February, up 5% from a year ago, while value climbed 35% to $904.4 million. Through the first two months of the year, exports increased 9% to 227,567 mt, while value soared 46% to $1.93 billion.

Demand for U.S. pork did not fare as well in the first two months of 2022, as logistics challenges were compounded by lower-priced offerings from competitors. Like the U.S., these suppliers are shipping significantly lower volumes to China/Hong Kong, which has pushed more product into other markets at reduced prices.

February pork exports were 198,539 mt, down 17% from a year ago, while export value fell 14% to $541.3 million. Through February, exports were also down 17% in volume (407,347 mt) and 14% in value ($1.1 billion).

Beef export value approaches $2 billion after just two months

Following record-large January shipments, beef export volume to leading market South Korea slowed in February but value climbed significantly. February exports to Korea totaled 19,033 mt, down 19% from a year ago, but value still increased 17% to $197.8 million.

Through February, exports to Korea are off to a torrid start in 2022, climbing 8% in volume (48,611 mt) and already breaking the $500 million mark in value ($514.2 million, up 57%). Strong retail demand for U.S. beef continues and there is growing optimism for foodservice once Korea works through the current Omicron wave.

Although restaurant restrictions have been minimized, consumers still opted to dine at home as COVID cases surged in February and March.

February exports to Japan were down 5% to 23,553 mt, but value jumped 21% to just under $200 million. Through the first two months of the year, exports to Japan fell slightly (46,489 mt, down 1%) but value increased an impressive 26% to $381.6 million.

Strong growth in variety meat exports (tongues, skirts and hanging tenders) mostly offset the slowdown in muscle cut volume where exports continue to be impacted by Japan’s high duty rates.

Through the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement, Japan’s duty on muscle cuts notched down to 24.1% on April 1 while tongues edged lower to 3.8% and skirts/hangers to 4.2%. Fortunately an agreement has been reached to modify Japan’s safeguard, pending parliamentary approval in Japan, which will minimize the future risk of U.S. beef being subjected to a higher snapback duty rate.

Beef exports to Taiwan got off to a slow start in 2021 before recovering to set a new annual value record. Demand has been far stronger in early 2022, with February exports up 39% to 5,307 mt, while value soared 85% to $64.3 million.

Through February, exports to Taiwan increased 60% from a year ago to 12,221 mt and more than doubled in value to $147.4 million (up 101%). It is also USMEF’s understanding that shipping delays in late 2021 partly contributed to the larger volumes materializing in the 2022 data.

Other January-February results for U.S. beef exports include:

• Since U.S. beef gained meaningful access to China in early 2020 through the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, beef exports to China/Hong Kong have continued to build momentum. Through February, exports to the region increased 56% from a year ago to 39,492 mt, with value up 87% to $374.8 million.

Exports in the first two months of the year averaged 19,746 mt, 11% below the monthly average volume in the second half of 2021. But exports are expected to increase seasonally and as China gets through its current COVID challenges.

• Coming off a record performance in 2021, beef exports to Central America continue to trend higher, led by outstanding growth in Guatemala, Panama and Honduras and continued strong exports to Costa Rica. Through February, exports to the region were up 23% to 3,831 mt, valued at $28.1 million (up 50%).

• Strong demand in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas pushed beef exports to the Caribbean 32% higher than a year ago at 3,669 mt, while value nearly doubled to $32.8 million (up 98%). While still below pre-COVID levels, recent results reflect a rebound in tourism in the region.

• Led by strengthening variety meat shipments to Egypt and muscle cut growth in Qatar, beef exports to the Middle East increased 14% to 12,567 mt. Export value climbed 28% to $47.6 million.

• Beef exports to Colombia were up 50% in volume (1,952 mt) and 58% in value ($7.8 million), contributing to 12% value growth into South America (to $23 million).

• In addition to rebounding demand in Egypt, larger shipments to Japan, Korea, China/Hong Kong, Gabon, Chile and Vietnam fueled a 7% increase in beef variety meat exports (to 47,817 mt), with value climbing 39% to $195.6 million.

• February beef export value equated to $445.95 per head of fed slaughter, up 29% from a year ago. The January-February average was $474.87 per head, up 45%. Exports accounted for 14.1% of total February beef production and 11.6% for muscle cuts, down from the year-ago ratios of 14.4% and 12.3%, respectively.

Through February, exports accounted for 14.7% of total production and 12.5% for muscle cuts – each up about one percentage point from a year ago.

Despite strong month for Mexico and Japan, pork exports trend lower

U.S. pork exports to Mexico reached new heights in 2021 and this strong momentum continued through February. Exports totaled 73,939 mt, up 30% from a year ago, with value increasing 14% to $118.6 million. January-February exports to Mexico climbed 33% to 160,996 mt, with value up 19% to $255.1 million.

After a slow start in 2022, February pork exports to Japan rebounded to 32,712 mt, up 3% from a year ago, with value increasing 6% to $139.8 million. Through February, exports to Japan remained 8% below last year in volume (59,164 mt) and 3% lower in value ($258.5 million).

However, pork variety meat exports to Japan more than doubled in both volume (2,100 mt, up 123%) and value ($7 million, up 127%), and chilled pork exports were up 5% to 35,461 mt (valued at $173.5 million, up 4%). Some pork exports to Japan, such as frozen cuts and ground seasoned pork, have been negatively impacted by the logistical challenges and by heightened competition from the EU.

Pork exports to South Korea continue to post impressive value gains, even as volumes trend slightly lower than a year ago. February exports were 13,044 mt, down 4%, but value still increased 11% to $44.6 million.

Through February, exports to Korea were 3% below last year at 28,773 mt, but value climbed 21% to $103 million. Value growth is underpinned by continued increases in chilled pork volumes, up 42% to 1,820 mt, valued at $12 million (up 78%).

Other January-February results for U.S. pork exports include:

• Exports to China/Hong Kong dropped significantly from a year ago in both volume (68,420 mt, down 54%) and value ($185.5 million, down 44%). But this trend was consistent with late 2021 and in line with USMEF’s projections, given China’s low hog prices. China’s COVID restrictions on imported meat have also added further costs and limited new sales opportunities.

The region is still the dominant destination for U.S. pork variety meat. Through February, pork variety meat exports to China/Hong Kong were down 10% from a year ago to 40,752 mt, but export value still increased 9% to $117.6 million. On a global basis, pork variety meat exports increased 6% in value to $183.2 million despite a 9% decline in volume (69,309 mt).

• Fueled by strong consumer demand and the impact of African swine fever (ASF) on domestic pork production, exports to the Dominican Republic increased 7% to 11,588 mt while value jumped 11% to $27.7 million.

Shipments also increased to the Leeward-Windward Islands, Turks and Caicos, Haiti, Barbados and Bermuda, pushing exports to the Caribbean region 4% higher in volume (13,803 mt) and 11% higher in value ($35.5 million).

• While pork exports to Central America trended below last year’s record pace, shipments to El Salvador increased 3% to 2,229 mt and jumped 20% in value to $6.8 million. Exports to Belize increased 46% to 140 mt, while value more than doubled to $477,000 (up 101%).

• Exports were also lower for South America, Oceania and the ASEAN region, due partly to severe competition from the EU at dramatically lower prices. As noted, however, the competitive position of U.S. pork is expected to improve as European production trends lower.

• February pork export value equated to $54.44 per head slaughtered, down 10% from a year ago. The January-February average was $53.89 per head, down 3.5%. Exports accounted for 25.5% of total February pork production and 22.7% for muscle cuts, each down about four percentage points from a year ago.

The January-February ratios were also 25.5% and 22.7%, down from 26.8% and 24%, respectively, in 2021.

February lamb export value highest since 2014

February exports of U.S. lamb totaled 1,580 mt, up 37% from a year ago. Export value was $2.56 million, up 62% and the highest since July 2014. Leading market Mexico posted increases in both variety meats and muscle cuts, while muscle cut exports also increased to the Caribbean, Central America and the Philippines.

Through February, lamb exports increased 43% from a year ago to 3,113 mt, while value climbed 60% to $4.48 million.


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