While selected markets performed very well, the global pace of U.S. pork and beef exports lost ground in August compared to 2008, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

August beef plus beef variety meat exports declined 31 percent in volume and 37 percent in value compared to August 2008. For January-August, exports reached 586,525 metric tons (1.29 billion pounds) valued at $2.02 billion, a drop of 10 percent in volume and 14 percent in value from the same period last year. However, beef muscle cut exports as a percent of production held steady with the January-August 2008 pace at about 7 percent.

Beef exports hampered by sluggish variety meat demand

The overall decline in U.S. beef exports is largely attributable to a difficult global market for beef variety meat. January-August exports of U.S. beef variety meat have declined 20 percent in volume and 37 percent in value compared to the same period last year, while muscle cut exports have declined by 4 percent and 8 percent respectively.

Another major factor is that the top two destinations for U.S. beef – Mexico and Canada - are performing well below last year’s level. Beef exports to Mexico (201,970 metric tons or 445.3 million pounds valued at $636.7 million) have fallen below last year’s pace by 28 percent in volume and 35 percent in value. Exports to Canada (96,676 metric tons or 213.1 million pounds valued at $425.8 million) are lower by 12 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Partially offsetting these decreases was a 32 percent increase in beef exports to the combined Asian markets.

“Though U.S. beef is performing well in Asia and in other selected regions, it’s tough to overcome the declines in these neighboring markets,” Seng said. “Though we are battling some difficult economic conditions in Mexico and Canada, USMEF has had success growing demand for U.S. beef in these markets, and we will continue to build on the partnerships and opportunities we have established.”

Beef exports to Japan are running 22 percent ahead of last year’s volume and have increased in value by 21 percent. Japan’s market potential continues to be hampered, however, by the 20-month age limitation imposed on U.S. beef. The Greater China region (plus Vietnam) is also performing exceptionally well this year, with exports to Vietnam increasing by 28 percent in volume and 41 percent in value and exports to Hong Kong rising by 121 percent and 81 percent, respectively.

“We are very pleased with the level of U.S. beef demand that has been achieved in Japan and Greater China, but we’ve still only really scratched the surface,” Seng said. “The untapped potential of these markets is extraordinary, but we must gain expanded access to Japan and direct access to mainland China (which does not currently accept U.S. beef) to realize it.” 

U.S. beef exports to the Middle East have maintained a pace roughly equal to 2008, but the region is showing an increasing appetite for U.S. beef muscle cuts. While variety meat exports to the Middle East have declined by 11 percent in volume and 23 percent in value compared to last year, muscle cut exports to the region have nearly doubled in volume and increased by about one-third in value.

Beef exports to the Caribbean have increased 5 percent in volume and value over last year, with the Bahamas emerging as one of the region’s top destinations. Exports to the Bahamas have increased by 31 percent in volume and 24 percent in value.

Demand for U.S. pork still strong in Japan, Mexico; offset by limited market access in China, Russia

August pork plus pork variety meat exports were down 22 percent in volume and 28 percent in value compared to August 2008. For January-August, exports reached 1.212 million metric tons (2.67 billion pounds) valued at $2.85 billion, a decline of 12 percent in volume and 11 percent in value from the same period last year. While lower than the torrid pace of 2008, pork exports in August were still 35 percent larger than August 2007 – the previous high for pork exports – and accumulated exports through the first eight months of the year were 51 percent larger than January through August 2007.

In the first half of the year, the declining performance of certain pork export markets was largely offset by gains in the two leading destinations for U.S. pork (Mexico by volume, Japan in terms of value). While Mexico and Japan continue to perform above their record pace of 2008, the gains achieved in these markets are no longer sufficient to overcome the decline in exports to China and Russia, which are at least partially the result of market access restrictions.

January-August pork exports to Mexico of 328,801 metric tons (724.9 million pounds), valued at nearly $487 million, were 38 percent higher by volume and 17 percent higher by value than the same period last year. Mexico’s August total was 5 percent higher in volume and 6 percent higher in value than in July 2009, and up more than 10 percent in both volume and value over June 2009. This indicates demand for U.S. pork has rebounded quickly from the H1N1 influenza crisis that gripped Mexico earlier this year.

The January-August volume of pork exports to Japan (289,179 metric tons or 637.5 million pounds) slipped slightly below its 2008 pace, but exports to Japan still increased by 6 percent in value. In fact, pork exports to Japan cracked the $1 billion mark ($1.056 billion) at the earliest point ever in the calendar year.

Other bright spots for U.S. pork through August include Australia (up 26 percent in volume and 23 percent in value over January-August 2008), the Caribbean (up 37 percent in volume and 30 percent in value), Taiwan (up 22 percent in volume and 12 percent in value) and the Philippines (up 12 percent in volume and 10 percent in value).

“USMEF has really intensified pork marketing activities in Japan and Mexico and those efforts are paying major dividends. It is especially gratifying to see pork demand in Mexico rebound from the H1N1 situation,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “USMEF continues to work with the U.S. government in support of its efforts to resolve market access issues with China and Russia, and we will continue to maximize our pork marketing opportunities wherever they are available.”

With China essentially closed to U.S. pork for the entire summer due to H1N1 influenza-related restrictions, exports to China have declined by nearly 70 percent in both volume and value. Russia has lifted almost all of its H1N1-related suspensions for U.S. pork (the exception is pork originating from Florida), some remaining sanitary and phytosanitary issues have contributed to a decline in exports of almost 40 percent compared to January-August 2008.

Complete export statistics are available from USMEF.