April proved to be a solid month for U.S. pork and beef exports despite COVID-19 related interruptions in production and declining purchasing power of some key trading partners, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Pork exports remained well above year-ago levels but slowed from the record pace established in the first quarter. Beef exports were below last April's large totals but still topped $600 million in value.
"Considering all the challenges the U.S. red meat industry faced in April, export results were encouraging," says USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Exporters lost several days of slaughter and processing due to COVID-19, and shipments to Mexico and some other Latin American markets declined due to slumping currencies and the imposition of stay-at-home orders. But despite these significant headwinds, global demand for U.S. beef and pork remained strong."
While May export results will likely reflect similar obstacles, Halstrom notes that red meat production continues to recover, setting the stage for a strong second half of 2020.
"International customers are relieved to see U.S. production rebounding, solidifying our position as a reliable supplier," he says. "This helps address a major concern for buyers, as COVID-19 has disrupted meat production in many countries — not just the United States. Demand remains robust for U.S. red meat, especially at retail, but USMEF is actively working with our foodservice customers across the globe to help ensure a strong recovery for the restaurant, catering and hospitality sectors. Many are adjusting to an entirely new business climate, and the U.S. industry assisting them in this process can help ensure that U.S. pork, beef and lamb will be featured on their menus."
While China/Hong Kong continued to be the pacesetter for U.S. pork export growth, April exports also increased significantly to Japan, Vietnam and Chile. April volume reached 264,048 metric tons, up 22% from a year ago but the lowest since November 2019. Export value was $682.8 million, up 28% year-over-year but the lowest since October 2019. Through the first four months of 2020, pork exports remain on a record pace at 1.1 million mt, up 35% from a year ago, with value up 45% to $2.91 billion.
With production down significantly from the record levels achieved in March, pork export value per head slaughtered jumped to a record $72.55 in April, up 43% from a year ago. The January-April per-head average was $66.36, up 40%. April exports accounted for 36.2% of total pork production and 32.2% for pork muscle cuts, each up nearly 10 percentage points from a year ago. Through April, exports accounted for 32.4% of total pork production and 29.3% for muscle cuts, up from 24.9% and 21.8%, respectively, in the first four months of 2019.
April beef exports were down 6% from a year ago to 98,613 mt, with value falling 11% to $600.9 million. But exports achieved outstanding growth in Japan, where U.S. beef is benefiting from reduced tariffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, and trended higher to China following late-March implementation of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement. For January through April, beef exports totaled 433,316 mt, up 5% from a year ago, valued at $2.66 billion (up 3%).
With lower April slaughter numbers, beef export value per head of fed slaughter climbed to a record $363.35, up 19% from April 2019. For the first four months of the year, per-head export value increased 5% to $326.47. April beef exports accounted for 15.9% of total production and 13.5% for beef muscle cuts, up from 13.5% and 11.1%, respectively, a year ago. Through April, exports accounted for 14.4% of total beef production and 11.9% for muscle cuts, up from 13.8% and 11.2%, respectively, last year.