Beef export volumes continued to decline during November, falling 13.3 percent, and were down 11 percent for the year at 1,043,151 metric tons. The value of those exports, however, was $5.05 billion — still 2 percent above the record-setting value pace of 2011.

“Volume has been an issue for beef exports all year,” noted U.S. Meat Export Federation president and CEO Philip Seng. “That continued in November, but an appreciated value of those products has helped the industry hold its own in a challenging year.”

Much of the reduction in U.S. exports during 2012 was due to North American trading partners and to some major Asian trading partners, mainly South Korea. Exports to Canada and Mexico were 8 and 27 percent lower than those a year earlier, respectively, and exports to South Korea were 22 percent lower, while exports to Japan through November were only fractionally below year-earlier levels. Through November, U.S. beef exports to Vietnam and Hong Kong have maintained momentum, 4 and 17 percent higher year-over-year, respectively. U.S. beef export totals for 2012 are expected to be 2.484 billion pounds, or 11 percent below year-earlier levels. Exports for 2013 are expected to be about 1 percent lower, at 2.45 billion pounds. Strong foreign demand amid a continuing contraction in the U.S. cattle herd is expected to tighten U.S. beef consumption even further.

During November, Canada (up 18.5 percent in volume and 37.8 percent in value), Hong Kong (up 18.8 percent and 62.6 percent in volume and value, respectively), Russia (up 19 percent in volume and 4 per cent in value) and Central/South America (up 42.4 percent in volume and 56.3 percent in value, including record exports to Chile which were up 119 percent) were the top-performing beef export markets. Export value to South Korea increased 6 percent.

Beef exports to price-sensitive markets like Mexico were down in 2012, but the value of exports to premium markets like Japan (up 19 percent for the year) and Canada (up 13 percent) continue to grow.

Another positive for beef exporters is the rebound of the Taiwan market, which was once a top-five U.S. beef export market but was hindered for most of this year by ractopamine-related barriers that have since been resolved.

“There is no question that rising production costs and slowing economic growth have kept buyers on the sidelines or moved them toward less-expensive options,” Seng said. He noted that higher domestic meat production in certain markets (such as Korea, Japan and China) also have affected exports this year. Market access issues — such as Indonesia’s tighter import quotas aimed at boosting domestic production and Saudi Arabia’s closure due to BSE — have also impacted exports.

“While volumes are lower, the quality and reputation of U.S. red meat products have helped support higher values,” he said.