Increasing beef export values continued on lower volumes for February, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef exports managed a 5 percent increase in value ($430 million) over February 2012 despite a slight decline in volume (86,367 metric tons). February pork exports slipped 5 percent in volume (178,510 metric tons) and 6 percent in value ($494.6 million) compared to a year ago.

Through the first two months of the year, beef exports totaled 172,975 metric tons valued at $873.8 million — 2 percent lower in volume but 7 percent higher in value than last year’s pace. Beef export value in February averaged $239 per head of fed slaughter — up nearly $31 from a year ago. This drove the January-February export value to $220.39 per head, compared to $202.89 in 2012. The percentage of U.S. beef production exported in February was 10 percent for muscle cuts and 13.4 percent for combined muscle cuts and variety meat. This compares to 9 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively, from a year ago.

“The good news is that the long-awaited change in beef access to Japan came through in February,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “Conversely, trade barriers and other obstacles seem to be emerging at a rather alarming rate in 2013. Sluggish economic conditions in certain markets also create a challenge, but this is why we have made such a strong effort to diversify our destinations for red-meat exports over the years. As some of our key markets struggle, growth in other regions has helped provide balance.”

Beef exports to Canada are off to an outstanding start in 2013, totaling 31,464 metric tons (+31 percent) valued at $200.2 million (+46 percent) through February. Other markets performing well above year-ago levels include:

• Hong Kong, 15,821 metric tons (+144 percent) valued at $85.5 million (+126 percent)

• Taiwan, 5,708 metric tons (+16 percent) valued at $42.6 million (+39 percent)

• Philippines, 2,463 metric tons (+19 percent) valued at $11.3 million (+45 percent)

• Dominican Republic, 617 metric tons (+41 percent) valued at $5.6 million (+70 percent).

Because access for U.S. beef exports to Japan was expanded on Feb. 1 to include beef from cattle less than 30 months of age (up from 21 months), expectations for the month were very high. Exports to Japan did record small gains in February and moved 3 percent higher in volume (19,918 metric tons) and 12 percent higher in value ($137.9 million) for the year. Based on weekly export data the improvement in market access didn’t trigger an increase in export activity until late February, so the impact will be more pronounced in March.