Meat exports are doing very well, thank you. For the pork industry, 2012 is turning out to be a banner year with first-quarter data showing 8% higher volume shipped - nearly 600,000 metric tons - and 20% higher value that last year's record pace, according to USDA statistics released through the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Meanwhile, beef exports remain soft with volumes down 10% to 266,388 metric tons. But values are up 4% for the quarter at $1.25 billion.
Here are some key numbers on pork exports for the period:
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.
"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."
USDA reports 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).
A look at the beef numbers
USDA reports 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.
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.