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2022 record year for U.S. beef exports; pork exports finish strong

Pork highlights include $2 billion year for Mexico; beef export value to South Korea was $2.7 billion, an all-time record for any single destination.

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U.S. beef exports set annual records for both volume and value in 2022, according to year-end data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Pork exports finished lower year-over-year but export value was the third largest on record, trailing only the highs reached in 2020 and 2021. Pork exports continued to gain momentum in December, led by another outstanding performance in Mexico. While lamb exports slowed in December, 2022 shipments were sharply higher than the previous two years, approaching the pre-COVID levels of 2019.

Despite slowing toward the end of the year, beef exports reached 1.47 million metric tons, up 2% from the previous high in 2021. Export value climbed to a record $11.68 billion, up 10% from 2021 and nearly 40% above the previous five-year average. The United States exported a record share of its record-large beef production in 2022, and at higher prices. Export value to South Korea was $2.7 billion, up 13% and an all-time record for any single destination, while exports to China/Hong Kong jumped 22% to $2.55 billion. Other markets in which beef exports achieved annual records included Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Colombia, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. 

In December, beef exports trended lower than a year ago at 112,707 mt, down 7%, while value fell 21% to $782.6 million. The December decline was due in part to a sharp drop in exports to China/Hong Kong, where demand had been constrained by persistent zero-COVID policies. China lifted most COVID restrictions in early December and resumed some international travel in early January. Along with the recent easing of COVID-related cold chain regulations and inspections, these changes offer a more optimistic demand outlook for 2023. 

"2022 was a ground-breaking year for U.S. beef's international presence, with global demand stronger than I've seen in all my years in the industry," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Late in the year, exports certainly felt the impact of persistent headwinds in our large Asian markets, including depressed trading partner currencies and COVID-related challenges in China, but the long list of countries in which records were set showcases the industry's focus on diversifying export markets. While the year ahead will be challenging due to supply constraints, the exchange rate situation has improved and we still see room for growth in the foodservice sector as more regions continue their gradual rebound from COVID." 

Pork exports finished 2022 on a decidedly upward trajectory as December shipments reached 244,718 mt, up 13% year-over-year and the second largest of 2022 (slightly below November). December export value climbed 14% to $687.3 million. These results pushed 2022 exports to 2.67 million mt, down 8.5% from a year ago, while export value was $7.68 billion – down 5% from the record achieved in 2021. Exports of U.S. pork variety meat were the second largest on record at more than 530,000 mt, while export value was record-high at $1.27 billion. 

Pork exports to Mexico set a volume record in December on the way to a record-breaking year in which exports increased 10% to nearly 960,000 mt. Export value to Mexico soared 21% to $2.03 billion, topping the $2 billion mark for the first time. December exports also set a value record in Central America and trended higher year-over-year to China/Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Australia. 2022 exports to the DR were record-large in both volume (85,551 mt, up 46%) and value ($233.6 million, up 55%). 

"The Mexican market has been a star performer for U.S. pork for many years, but the 2022 results were truly remarkable," Halstrom said. "In the face of growing competition in Mexico, the U.S. pork industry has expanded product offerings and found innovative ways to meet the needs of processors, retailers and foodservice operators. In addition to Mexico, it is gratifying to see such a broad range of markets contributing to our recent export growth, making the prospects for 2023 very promising."

Exports of U.S. lamb muscle cuts finished 2022 sharply higher year-over-year at 2,225 mt, up 59% and the largest since 2019. Export value increased 49% to $13.2 million, also the highest since 2019. Growth was led by strengthening demand in the Caribbean, where exports increased 47% to 1,043 mt, valued at $7.5 million (up 32%). Exports also increased substantially year-over-year to Mexico, Canada, the Philippines and Taiwan.

A detailed summary of the 2022 export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.

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