- Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat unless otherwise noted
- One metric ton = 2,204.622 pounds

Despite a continued slump in U.S. red meat export volume and a further dip in August sales, the value of beef and pork exports for the first eight months of the year remained slightly ahead of 2011’s record-setting pace, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

U.S. beef exports in August were the second-largest of the year at 100,468 metric tons, but this was still 14 percent below the August 2011 volume. In value, August exports totaled $486.2 million. While 5 percent lower than a year ago, it was also the second-highest monthly total of 2012.

For January through August, beef exports were 11 percent lower than a year ago in volume (759,901 metric tons) but still 2 percent above last year’s record value pace at $3.66 billion.

U.S. pork exports in August were down 6 percent in volume (175,310 metric tons) and 7 percent in value ($495.5 million) compared to a year ago, but these totals were up 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively, from the previous month’s performance. Through the first eight months of the year, 2012 pork exports were up 2 percent in volume (1.474 million metric tons) and 8 percent in value ($4.13 billion) from last year’s record levels.

“We face a challenging business climate in several key markets, with rising production costs and slowing economic growth creating some anxiety among buyers,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “We’re also seeing a surge in domestic meat supplies in some areas, particularly in South Korea. But the commitment to enhancing global demand for U.S. beef and pork remains very strong, as evidenced by the terrific support of our producer organizations. These are the circumstances in which effective global marketing takes on an even greater level of importance, as producers need to maximize the value of every cut and every carcass.”

January-August beef exports accounted for 9.8 percent of muscle cut production and 12.7 percent when including variety meat – down from last year’s ratios of 11 percent and 14.2 percent. Export value per head of fed slaughter, however, was up about 6 percent from last year to $212.05.

On the pork side, exports through August accounted for 23.7 percent of muscle cut production and 27 percent when including variety meats, compared to 22.8 percent and 27.3 percent in 2011. Export value averaged $56.51 per head slaughtered, up from last year’s $53.54 during the first eight months of the year.

Japan tops beef export market highlights

Beef exports to Japan continued to shine in August, up 20 percent in volume (17,588 metric tons) from a year ago and increasing 48 percent in value to $119.3 million. Through August, 2012 exports to Japan were steady with last year in volume at 108,720 metric tons, but 23 percent higher in value at $719.5 million – ranking a close second behind Canada for the leading beef value market.

“While the timeline is uncertain, we remain hopeful that a broader supply of U.S. beef will soon be eligible for Japan,” Seng said. “This is more critical than ever as demand for U.S. beef is extremely strong. In addition to the traditional forequarter cuts and short plates, and other items such as beef tongue, our key buyers in Japan have a growing interest in middle meats and very high-end cuts. Demand for Prime and higher-level Choice cuts is very promising”

Though exports to Canada were down 15 percent in volume through August (111,372 metric tons), export value remained 4 percent above last year’s record pace at $736.5 million. Exports to the Middle East followed a similar pattern, slipping 9 percent in volume (103,231 metric tons) but increasing 4 percent in value to $229 million. Beef muscle cut exports to the Middle East (-18 percent in volume to 28,397 metric tons and steady in value at $127.5 million) continue to be hindered by lack of access to Saudi Arabia, which closed to U.S. beef due to the April 24 BSE case.

Led by a strong performance in Vietnam, exports to the ASEAN region were up 11 percent in value ($181.9 million) through August despite a 6 percent decline in volume (44,548 metric tons). Beef markets achieving increases in both volume and value included:

  • Russia, +8 percent to 52,907 metric tons and +31 percent to $214 million
  • Hong Kong, +9 percent to 36,907 metric tons and +28 percent to $194.1 million
  • Central and South America, +37 percent to 23,766 metric tons and +77 percent to $87.9 million

Mexico remains the largest volume market for U.S. beef at 140,228 metric tons (-17 percent) but has slipped to third in value ($590 million, -9 percent). While still a critical market for underutilized muscle cuts and variety meat, Mexico’s weak peso and sluggish economy have contributed to a difficult business climate in this price-sensitive market.

Exports to South Korea (84,406 metric tons, -23 percent, valued at $388.8 million, -20 percent) faced similar circumstances, but were also curbed by a surge in domestic meat supplies. With Korea’s livestock inventory recently reaching its highest level ever, its imports from all major beef suppliers have trended lower this year.