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Robust demand for U.S. pork, strong finish for beef in 2023

Record pork exports to Mexico, Central America, DR; beef sees December uptick from South Korea and China.

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Led by a record-shattering performance in Mexico and broad-based growth in other markets, U.S. pork exports set a value record in 2023, according to year-end data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. While 2023 beef exports were below the record totals posted the previous year, December exports were the largest since August and December export value increased 10% year-over-year.

2023 pork highlights

December pork exports climbed nearly 10% from a year ago to 268,399 metric tons, the largest since May 2021 and the eighth largest on record. Export value increased 11% to $765.8 million, also the highest since May 2021 and the third highest on record. While December exports trended higher in many key markets, Mexico was once again the star performer, setting records for both volume (105,451 mt) and value ($233.8 million).

The strong December results pushed 2023 export value to a record $8.16 billion, up 6% from 2022. Export value per head slaughtered also set an annual record of nearly $64, with more than $11 per head attributed to variety meat exports. Export volume was 2.91 million mt, up 8% year-over-year and the third largest on record.

Pork exports set annual volume and value records in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Malaysia, as well as value records in Central America and Colombia. Exports to South Korea were the third largest on record and second highest in value, while shipments to Oceania were the largest since 2020.

“2023 saw tremendous growth in global demand for U.S. pork, and it came at a time when the U.S. industry needed it most,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “The expansion of U.S. pork’s presence in Mexico has been remarkable but the great news certainly doesn’t end there. We are very encouraged by the robust demand we’ve seen throughout the Western Hemisphere and in a number of Asia-Pacific markets as well.”

Beef per-head value exceeded $430

December exports of U.S. beef totaled 108,497 mt, down 4% year-over-year but the largest since August. Export value was also the highest since August and climbed 10% year-over-year to $860.8 million.

2023 beef exports totaled 1.29 million mt, down 12% from the 2022 record. While export value fell 15% to just under $10 billion, this was still the third highest annual value for beef exports.

Mexico’s demand for U.S. beef continued to strengthen in December, pushing 2023 exports to the largest volume since 2019 and export value to $1.19 billion, the second highest on record. Beef exports to Central America and the Dominican Republic were record-large in 2023, while shipments also trended higher to Hong Kong, Africa and Peru. While December exports to leading market South Korea remained lower than a year ago in volume, export value ($220.6 million) was the highest in 18 months. This helped push December export value per head of fed slaughter to $431.50, the highest since April. For the year, per-head export value averaged $397.04.

“There is no question that 2023 was a challenging year for U.S. beef exports, especially in our largest Asian markets where economic conditions have weighed on foodservice demand,” Halstrom said. “Of course, we were also challenged on the supply side, with less product available for export. But nevertheless, U.S. beef achieved excellent growth in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and we are encouraged by the December uptick in demand in South Korea and China. It was also great to see such strong per-head export value in December, topping $430.”

Lamb exports declined in 2023

Led by growth in Mexico, the Bahamas and the Netherlands Antilles, December exports of U.S. lamb totaled 186 mt, up 13% year-over-year, while export value climbed 16% to $1.1 million. For 2023, exports declined 16% to 2,355 mt, while value fell 15% to $12.6 million. Full-year exports increased to Central America, the Netherlands Antilles and the Bahamas, but declined to Mexico and Canada.

A detailed summary of the 2023 export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.

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