June export data, released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, reflected a challenging first half of 2015 for U.S. beef exports.

Beef export volume in June was down 8 percent from a year ago to 213.2 million pounds, while export value fell 9 percent to $578.9 million. This was the second consecutive month that export value fell below last year’s level, resulting in first-half value being steady with 2014’s pace at $3.26 billion. First-half volume was down 10 percent to 1.16 billion pounds.

“We were aware that exports would be facing obstacles in 2015, and that keeping pace with last year’s record performance would be difficult,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “The first-quarter slump was partially due to the West Coast port labor impasse, as well as intense competition from countries that continue to recognize opportunities in several markets. We were expecting to see a stronger rebound in the second quarter – and that did not materialize.”

Seng added that, while marketing budgets remain flat, competitors are beefing up efforts to capture larger shares of the red meat market. Competition continues to be a major factor, along with a strong U.S. dollar that is providing a price advantage for several competitors with slumping currencies.

Australian beef production was expected to ramp down in 2015 as the industry entered herd-rebuilding mode after several years of poor grazing conditions. But with disappointing rainfall in Australia and attractive slaughter cattle prices, beef production and exports remained record-large through the first half of the year – though some slowdown was seen in July.

Beef exports strong to Korea and Taiwan, but most markets lower year-over-year

Beef exports to Korea overcame a slow start in 2015, finishing the first half up 8 percent in volume (134.9 million pounds) and 12 percent in value ($423.7 million). June exports were the largest in more than two years at 27.8 million pounds (up 30 percent) valued at $81.8 million (up 17 percent).

“The Korean market could see a brief downturn in July, as economic activity slowed severely in June due to the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS),” Seng cautioned. “This had a very negative effect on hotel and restaurant traffic and caused a backup in beef inventories. But consumer activity has since recovered, so the impact of MERS on exports should be short-lived.”

First-half beef exports to Taiwan were up 2 percent in volume (36.3 million pounds) and 13 percent in value ($150.5 million). June was an especially strong month, hitting a record volume of 9.2 million pounds (up 32 percent from a year ago) valued at $33 million (up 13 percent).

Other first-half results for U.S. beef exports included:

Exports to Japan were down 2 percent from a year ago in both volume (240.3 million pounds) and value ($676.7 million) – a respectable performance considering the slow start to the year (due in part to port congestion, which slowed demand for chilled beef) and the tariff advantage now enjoyed by Australian beef following implementation of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. U.S. beef remains subject to a 38.5 percent tariff in Japan, while import tariffs on Australian chilled and frozen beef are now 31.5 percent and 28.5 percent, respectively.

  • Exports to Mexico fell 7 percent in volume (238.3 million pounds) and 2 percent in value ($534.1 million) as the weakness of the peso versus the U.S. dollar has had a growing impact on beef demand in recent months.
  • The Hong Kong market began to slow near the end of 2014, and that trend continued in the first half of the year, with exports falling 18 percent in volume (130.2 million pounds) and 12 percent in value ($434.4 million).
  • Buoyed by strong demand in the Dominican Republic, exports to the Caribbean were up 3 percent in volume to 26.2 million pounds and 16 percent in value to $83.2 million.

January-June beef exports accounted for 13 percent of total production and 10 percent for muscle cuts only (down from 14 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in the first half of last year). Export value averaged $291.70 per head of fed slaughter, up 7 percent year-over-year.

Complete January-June export results are available on the USMEF statistics webpage. For more information, please contact Joe Schuele at jschuele@usmef.org or 303-226-7309.

For more information about your beef checkoff investment, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.