Beef exports continue on a record-setting pace. Through the first three months of 2011, beef exports were 32 percent higher in volume and 53 percent higher in value, compared to the first quarter of 2010. During March, beef posted a 65 percent gain in value compared with March 2010, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

On a per-head basis, beef exports achieved a record value level. The beef industry exported 15 percent of total production with an export value per head of fed slaughter reaching $205.40.

“We are seeing rebounding global demand for high-quality U.S. red meat products, particularly as consumer trust recovers in key markets like Japan and South Korea,” says Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “Certainly, we still are facing obstacles in the international marketplace, such as China’s ban on U.S. beef, Mexico’s NAFTA-related tariff on U.S. pork, technical issues in Taiwan and age restrictions on beef exports to Japan, but even without the resolution of any significant access issues, we’re finding increased opportunities to expand market share for U.S. red meat products.”

March export levels for beef set new value and volume records. Total beef exports in March of 117,075 metric tons were 45 percent larger than a year ago and up 18 percent from March 2003. On a value basis, exports were record-large at $475.2 million, up 65 percent versus both March 2010 and March 2003. For the first quarter, exports were up 53 percent in value and 32 percent in volume, totaling $1.2 billion and 296,535 metric tons. On a value basis, exports have exceeded 2003 levels for the past five months, and export volume also has exceeded 2003 in three of the past five months.

For the first quarter of 2011, beef exports equated to 13.4 percent of production with value at $186.58 per head of fed slaughter. The top growth market for beef was South Korea with first-quarter exports up 181 percent to 52,635 metric tons and value up 190 percent to $226.4 million. This put South Korea narrowly behind Mexico for the top spot among U.S. beef export destinations. Total March beef exports of 24,485 metric tons surged above March 2003 volume (when South Korea was the No. 3 export market for U.S. beef) and were three times larger than March 2010 exports. The United States accounted for 38 percent of South Korea’s first quarter beef imports, up from 30.5 percent market share one year ago

Last month, USMEF was designated as the recipient of $1 million in USDA MAP funds to augment its current efforts to address the impact of non-science-based import regulations on U.S. beef exports to South Korea and build consumer confidence in U.S. beef. USMEF also is applying for an additional $10 million in MAP funds over five years to expand and intensify the program.

“The U.S. meat industry has faced unprecedented and unscientific technical barriers to trade that, in the name of food safety, have unnecessarily restricted U.S. exports,” Seng says.

“These new resources will enable us to expand and intensify our efforts with the goal of the complete restoration of the beef market in South Korea.”

As is the case with pork exports to South Korea, the pending approval of the U.S./ South Korea FTA would reduce tariffs on U.S. beef exports to that nation and help ensure competitive pricing for U.S. products.