U.S. beef exports stayed on a record pace in April while pork exports reached the largest monthly volume in more than a year, the U.S. Meat Export Federation said Thursday, based on USDA data.
Pork exports totaled 200,125 metric tons in April, up 4% year-over-year and the largest since March 2014. Export value, at $512.1 million, was down 14%, reflecting lower pork prices. Through the first four months of 2015, pork exports were down 7% in volume at 726,102 mt and 14% in value at $1.93 billion, from the same period last year.
Beef exports moved seasonally higher in April to 92,263 mt, the largest monthly volume since December 2014 but still down 7% year-over-year. Beef export value was $555.3 million – the highest since December and up 3% year-over-year. From January through April, beef exports totaled 341,927 mt, down 9% from the same period in 2014. But export value was still 4% ahead of last year's record pace at $2.12 billion.
West Coast port situation relief
"Exports are still recovering from a slow start to the year, but the April results confirm that the U.S. industry is regaining global momentum," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "April was really the first time this year that we saw relief from the West Coast port situation – not that shipping traffic was completely back to normal, but the worst of the congestion was clearly behind us.
"And despite the U.S. dollar continuing to be very strong relative to the currencies of most key customers and competitors, demand for U.S. meat is holding up well," he said.
Seng cautioned, however, that the strong dollar leaves the U.S. industry in a vulnerable position when competitors gain tariff advantages in key markets.
"Australian beef is enjoying its second round of tariff rate reductions in Japan, and the projected slowdown in Australia's beef production has not materialized," he said. "A similar situation may develop with regard to European pork, as the EU and Japan have pledged to complete their trade agreement negotiations by the end of this year. There are a number of FTA negotiations that bear watching, because they have the potential to further shake up the competitive landscape."
U.S. beef export highlights >>
U.S. beef export highlights
January-April beef exports to Japan increased year-over-year in both volume (70,972 mt, up 5%) and value ($457.7 million, up 8%). The same was true for Korea, where exports increased 4% in volume (38,828 mt) and 8% in value ($277.2 million). April was an especially strong month for exports to Korea, where U.S. beef has gained increasing popularity in the retail sector.
"U.S. beef has traditionally enjoyed a great deal of success in Korea's restaurant sector," Seng explained. "Over the past year, we have placed an increased emphasis on beef promotions in Korea's supermarkets and hypermarkets, and the results have been outstanding."
Despite a weakened peso, demand for U.S. beef has held up well in Mexico. Though down 3% year-over-year, export volume (73,802 mt) was still the largest of any international market, reflecting strong growth in variety meat. Exports increased 2% in value to $365.9 million, ranking second behind Japan.
Exports to Taiwan rebounded in April after slumping the previous month. While January-April volume (8,969 mt) remained down 6% year-over-year, value increased 13% to $88 million.
The Dominican Republic and Guatemala have been top performers in Latin America. Exports to the Dominican Republic jumped 37% in volume (2,522 mt) and 27% in value ($19.2 million), while exports to Guatemala were up 24% (1,522 mt) and 28% ($9 million), respectively.
Results have been impressive for the two leading markets in the ASEAN region. Exports to the Philippines were up 7% in volume to 5,068 mt, but jumped 41% in value to $29 million. Exports to Vietnam were 36% higher in volume (1,148 mt) and surged 87% in value to $9.9 million.
January-April beef exports equated to 13% of total beef production and 10% for muscle cuts only – down slightly from last year. Export value per head of fed slaughter averaged $292, up 10% from a year ago.
U.S. pork export highlights >>
U.S. pork export highlights
Mexico is once again the pacesetter for U.S. pork exports, with January-April volume up 8% year-over-year to 237,998 mt. Export value to Mexico slipped 13%, however, to $413.6 million, reflecting lower prices for hams, picnics and other key items.
Exports to South Korea bucked the global trend by increasing even more in value ($241.8 million, up 45%) than in volume (79,401 mt, up 39%).
Japan remains the leading value market for U.S. pork, despite an 18% drop in value to $552.4 million. Export volume to Japan was down 11% to $149.8 million. April exports to Japan were the largest in 12 months at 45,297 mt, but were still down 5% from a year ago.
Having only a small number of plants approved for export to China continues to inhibit exports to the China/Hong Kong region, with exports down 30% in volume (99,184 mt) and 32% in value ($214.2 million). Exports regained some momentum in April, however, exceeding year-ago levels for the first time in 13 months, reflecting growth to Hong Kong.
The Dominican Republic and Guatemala continue to be strong performers for U.S. pork in 2015. Exports to the Dominican Republic were up 32% in volume (8,398 mt) and 16% in value ($19.4 million), while totals for Guatemala were up 19% (to 4,597 mt) and 16% ($13.1 million), respectively.
Though January-April totals were still down 25% year-over-year, exports to Oceania rebounded impressively in April as combined shipments to Australia and New Zealand reached 7,492 mt – the highest monthly volume in nearly three years.
Through the first four months of the year, pork exports equated to 24.5% of total production and 20.5% of muscle cut production – down from 28% and 23%, respectively, during the same period last year. Pork export value per head slaughtered averaged $50.35, down 19% from a year ago and 4.5% lower than in 2013.