March exports of both U.S. beef and pork increased year-over-year in volume, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). March export values were lower than a year ago but trended upward, with both reaching a 2016 high.
March pork exports were the largest in 11 months at 195,898 mt, up 3 percent year-over-year. First-quarter exports reached 534,321 mt, up 2 percent. March export value ($480.4 million) was down 3 percent from a year ago but the highest since May 2015. First-quarter export value totaled $1.3 billion, 9 percent below last year’s pace.
Beef exports totaled 89,482 metric tons (mt) in March, up 3 percent from a year ago and pushing first-quarter volume to 254,986 mt – up 2 percent. March export value was $483.3 million, down 8 percent from a year ago but the highest since December. For the first quarter, export value was $1.36 billion – down 13 percent from the same period last year.
“Exports showed an encouraging level of improvement in March, especially to our key Asian markets,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “The U.S. pork industry is now better positioned to capitalize on strong demand in China. Pork exports to Japan were also higher, though we are still in a very tough battle for market share as Japan’s imports from Europe increased at a faster pace. On the beef side, exports continued to perform well in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. So while U.S. exports continue to recover from a down year in 2015, volumes are on track for improvement in most markets this year.”
Chilled pork drives improvement in Japan
March pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region were 50,695 mt, up 80 percent from a year ago and the largest volume since December 2011. For the first quarter, exports to China/Hong Kong increased 83 percent in volume (124,231 mt) and 54 percent in value ($233.7 million). But China’s imports from all suppliers – especially the European Union – have been record-large in recent months, raising concerns that the market could soften despite the downward trend in domestic production.
Japan’s pork imports from all suppliers showed renewed momentum in March, which helped boost U.S. exports to Japan above year-ago levels for the first time this year. Led by strong demand for U.S. chilled pork, March exports were 36,914 mt, up 3 percent from a year ago and the largest volume since May 2015. March export value increased 5 percent to $138.7 million. For the first quarter, exports to Japan were still lower year-over-year in both volume (94,982 mt, -9 percent) and value ($363.2 million, -6 percent).
Pork exports saw mixed results in North America in March, with exports to Mexico falling 17 percent in volume (51,452 mt) and 16 percent in value ($86.6 million). For the first quarter, exports to Mexico were down 11 percent (159,947 mt) and 18 percent ($262.7 million), respectively. March exports to Canada were the largest in six months at 18,871 mt, which was steady with last year. Export value slipped 4 percent to $68.7 million. First-quarter exports to Canada were down 3 percent from a year ago in volume (47,510 mt) and 9 percent lower in value ($174.2 million).
Driven by strong growth in the Philippines, first-quarter exports to the ASEAN region increased 2 percent in volume (9,658 mt) and 1 percent in value ($21.1 million). Exports to the Philippines were up 10 percent (8,007 mt) and 18 percent (17,021 mt), respectively.
First-quarter pork exports to Central America were also higher in both volume (15,491 mt, +24 percent) and value ($35.5 million, +9 percent), led by strong growth in Honduras and Guatemala.
First-quarter exports equated to 24 percent of total pork production and 20 percent for muscle cuts only – both steady with last year. But for March, the muscle cut ratio was 22 percent – the highest in 10 months. Export value averaged $44.41 per head in the first quarter, down 10 percent from the same period last year.
Beef variety meat demand bolsters exports to Asia, Middle East
While lower beef prices pushed export values below year-ago levels in most destinations, Korea and Taiwan stood out as top performers. For the first quarter, exports to Korea increased 25 percent from a year ago in volume (34,638 mt) and were steady in value at $205 million. Exports to Taiwan increased 20 percent to 7,634 mt, while value climbed 3 percent to $66.4 million. These markets continue to show strong demand for high-quality chilled U.S. beef cuts in both the retail and foodservice sectors. Beef variety meat exports to Korea have also performed exceptionally well in 2016, with first-quarter exports more than doubling in volume (3,954 mt, +133 percent) and increasing 84 percent in value ($17.6 million).
First-quarter beef export volume to Japan improved 9 percent from a year ago to 52,841 mt, while value fell 7 percent to $300.4 million. Led by strong demand for U.S. beef tongues, beef variety meat exports to Japan were very strong in the first quarter, increasing 21 percent from a year ago in volume (9,877 mt) and 22 percent in value ($70.4 million).
Beef exports to the Middle East increased 13 percent in the first quarter to 27,641 mt, though value fell 11 percent to $60.3 million. Variety meat exports to Egypt increased 47 percent year-over-year in March, pushing the first-quarter total to 24,543 mt (+14 percent). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the leading market in the region for beef muscle cuts, with first-quarter exports increasing 8 percent year-over-year to 1,507 mt. Export value to the UAE fell 2 percent to $17.3 million.
Weakness of the Mexican peso and Canadian dollar continues to be a significant obstacle for U.S. beef. First-quarter exports to Canada declined 9 percent from a year ago in volume (26,246 mt) and 21 percent in value ($160.7 million). First-quarter exports to Mexico were down 14 percent (48,916 mt) and 23 percent ($219.4 million), respectively, though beef muscle cut exports to Mexico rebounded to some degree in March at 9,103 mt – the highest volume since December.
First-quarter exports equated to 12.5 percent of total U.S. beef production and 9 percent for muscle cuts only – both down slightly from a year ago. Export value averaged $243.21 per head of fed slaughter in the first quarter, down 16 percent from last year’s pace.