Beef and pork exports through July fell behind last year’s pace, but all things considered, things are not as bad as they might seem.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation   reports that January through July exports of U.S. pork and beef lagged behind last year’s pace amid a difficult global economic climate and lingering effects from the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

The most recent statistics show beef exports of 1.13 billion pounds valued at $1.944 billion, 6 percent below last year’s volume and 10 percent lower in value. USMEF notes, though, that the difference is primarily due to a very sluggish global market for beef variety meat. Beef muscle cut exports of 745.6 million pounds are actually slightly above last year’s volume, while trailing in value by only 2 percent.   

Pork exports during the same period totaled 2.38 billion pounds valued at $2.53 billion. While these totals are a respective 10 percent and 9 percent below last year’s record-shattering pace, they are still 53 percent higher in volume and 48 percent higher in value than in January-July 2007. 

Slow demand in Mexico and Canada and a steep decline in beef variety meat exports are the main factors keeping U.S. beef exports below last year’s pace. January-July exports to Mexico reached only 397.6 million pounds valued at $570.7 million – which is 25 percent below the 2008 volume and 31 percent below last year’s value. This decline is particularly severe on the beef variety meat side, as beef variety meat exports to Mexico have dropped by 35 percent in volume and 47 percent in value.

Exports to Canada, at about 185.2 million pounds, valued at $366.4 million, have fallen 12 percent behind last year’s volume and by 18 percent in value. This may be due in part to the steep decline – about 30 percent from January through August – in live cattle exports from Canada to the United States, though Canada’s domestic slaughter is also down by 1.5 percent.

“These results are disappointing, because our recent record of success in Mexico and Canada has been critical to the profitability of U.S. cattlemen,” said USMEF Chairman-elect Jim Peterson, a cattle producer from Buffalo, Mont. “We need to see better demand for U.S. beef in these markets, and hopefully the recent strengthening of the peso and especially the Canadian dollar will drive some improvement in the coming months.”

U.S. beef continues to rebuild its presence in Asia, led by an 18 percent increase in Japan over January-July 2008 and a dramatic increase in exports to Hong Kong. The July total for Hong Kong of 6.1 million pounds valued at $9.6 million was more than five times the volume and more than four times the value achieved in July 2008, pushing 2009 exports 111 percent above last year’s volume and 60 percent above last year’s value.

January-July exports to Taiwan are still down slightly from last year, but showing signs of recovery. July exports to Taiwan reached their second-highest monthly total of the year. Exports to Vietnam were lower than the corresponding 2008 total. January through July exports to South Korea totaled or 62.7 million pounds valued at $111.1 million. But their pace has also slowed, with the July volume being the smallest since the market reopened last year.

In terms of total U.S. production, beef plus beef variety meat exports are accounting for about the same percentage as last year – 9.8 percent in January-July 2009, compared to 10 percent during the same period in 2008.

More information is available from USMEF.