March exports of U.S. beef were down in volume from a year ago but edged slightly higher in value, while pork exports slumped on lower results in several mainstay markets, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
March beef export volume of 83,612 metric tons was down 7% from a year ago but export value ($440.7 million) was slightly higher. Beef exports finished the first quarter 4% lower in volume (256,587 mt) but 5% ahead of last year's record pace in value ($1.3 billion).
March pork exports declined 18% from a year ago in both volume (163,004 mt) and value ($469.5 million), hampered by a beta agonist-related market closure in Russia, larger domestic supplies in China and South Korea and weakened demand in top markets Japan and Mexico. For the first quarter, pork exports fell 12% below last year's record pace in volume (528,195 mt) and 11% in value ($1.49 billion).
"We are definitely facing a challenging environment in several of our leading markets," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "Some of these trends are anticipated, such as the lower demand for exports where domestic production is up and inventories are plentiful. But the trade impasse with Russia is very frustrating because we have lost access to a market where demand for our product is extremely strong. In other destinations we have seen the overall demand for high-quality proteins become sluggish, and USMEF is very focused on reversing this trend."
March beef exports equated to 9% of U.S. muscle cut production and 12% when adding variety meat – ratios consistent with a year ago. Export value equated to $222.20 per head of fed slaughter, up from 9% in March 2012. First quarter export value was $221, also an increase of 9%.
Pork exports accounted for 20% of muscle cut production in March and 23.4% including variety meat. This is down from 24% and 27.8%, respectively, in March 2012. March export value equated to $50.38 per head, down from $59.92 in March 2012. First-quarter export value averaged $53.38 per head, down 10% from a year ago.
Expanded access boosts beef exports to Japan, Hong Kong
Beef exports to Japan received an excellent bounce from aggressive promotional campaigns designed to capitalize on the recently expanded market access. March volume (18,565 mt) was nearly 80% higher than a year ago and value was up 62% to $114.2 million. This pushed first-quarter exports to Japan 30% higher in both volume (38,483 mt) and value ($252.1 million).
Japan ranks second in beef export value to Canada, where U.S. exports also posted an outstanding first quarter. Export volume to Canada increased 20% to 44,305 mt while value was up 32% to $284.2 million. This made Canada the leading volume and value destination for U.S. beef.
Beef exports to Hong Kong more than doubled in volume in the first quarter to 22,217 mt, while value increased 93% to 123.4 million. Market access was also expanded in Hong Kong in late February, when the market began accepting bone-in cuts from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age and boneless cuts from cattle of all ages.
Another bright spot for the U.S. beef industry has been the steady recovery of exports to Taiwan, which slumped in late 2011 and much of 2012 due to controversy over Taiwan's beta agonist policy. With more workable regulations now in place, exports to Taiwan posted their best-ever first-quarter performance with volume increasing 56% to 8,669 mt and value up 88% to $66.1 million.
Beef exports to the Middle East also recorded the best first quarter ever in terms of volume, increasing 10% to 39,018 mt. Export value ($75.7 million) slipped 4% due in part to the continued lack of access to Saudi Arabia, which closed to U.S. beef following the April 2012 BSE case.
As mentioned previously, red meat trade with Russia has been effectively shut down since early February. First quarter beef exports were down 87% in volume (1,858 mt) and 96% in value ($2.3 million). Exports to former No. 1 market Mexico continue to struggle, with first-quarter results down 27% in volume (40,668 mt) and 29% in value ($177.1 million). Mexico now ranks second in export volume to Canada and third in value behind Canada and Japan.
Slowdown in key markets hampers pork exports
Coming off a record year in which pork exports to Japan reached nearly $2 billion and export value to Mexico topped $1.1 billion, demand in both markets has slowed in 2013. Along with the shutdown of the Russian market – ranked No. 6 in export value last year at $281.7 million – this hindered U.S. pork's global performance in the first quarter despite gains in smaller, emerging markets.
Compared to the first quarter of 2012, pork exports to Japan fell 12% in volume (108,313 mt) and 9% in value ($482.5 million), partially as a result of the weaker yen. Exports to Mexico declined 15% in volume (137,506 mt) and 16% in value ($252.8 million).
Exports to Russia were down 62% in both volume (5,646 mt) and value ($17.5 million). Larger exports to neighboring countries, especially Ukraine, helped the overall performance in the Greater Russia region but exports were still down 41% in volume (9,221 mt) and 44% in value ($27.1 million).
Large domestic inventories impacted pork exports to China/Hong Kong (104,109 mt, -10%, valued at $219.5 million, -7%) and South Korea (34,841 mt, -35%, valued at $96.1 million, -38%). China's domestic pork prices recently dropped to the lowest level in more than two years despite a stockpiling program aimed at stabilizing the market. A voluntary herd-culling program initiated by the Korean government in an effort to boost domestic prices has also yielded disappointing results, creating a difficult environment for imported pork from all sources. According to the Global Trade Atlas, Korea's total pork imports fell 27% in volume and 35% in value in the first quarter. Despite the decline in imports from the United States, U.S. market share has increased in 2013.
Asia's first-quarter bright spot was the ASEAN region, where exports increased 37% in volume to 14,408 mt and 29% in value to $35.5 million. This was driven in large part by outstanding performance in the Philippines, where export volume increased 57% to 11,739 mt, valued at $28.1 million (+44%).
U.S. lamb exports bolstered by strong demand for variety meat
First-quarter lamb exports posted a 16% gain in value ($7.4 million) despite a 5% decline in volume (3,132 mt). Exports to leading market Mexico declined slightly in volume (2,364 mt) but increased 27% in value to $4.1 million. Global exports of lamb variety meat, a key contributor to carcass value, increased 19% in volume (2,161 mt) and 43% in value ($2.9 million)