While still impacted by severe congestion in the West Coast ports, February exports of U.S. beef and pork bounced back to some degree from the totals posted in January, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Conditions are steadily improving on the West Coast, where congestion related to a labor dispute slowed container traffic over the past four months. But the tentative contract agreement that eased tensions on the West Coast was not reached until Feb. 20, so this issue still had a significant impact on February meat exports.
“We didn’t see much relief from the shipping backlog until March, and container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal,” said USMEF president and chief executive officer Philip Seng. “However, the new labor contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the U.S. meat industry to begin the process of putting this crisis behind us. The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we’re looking forward to further improvement when March results are published.”
In addition to port congestion, February exports also continued to face significant challenges such as the strong U.S. dollar, large supplies from key competitors and market access barriers.
February beef exports totaled 82,991 metric tons (mt) – down 3 percent year-over-year but a 4 percent improvement over January. Export value of $535.3 million was up 12 percent from a year ago and 6 percent higher than in January. January-February volume was 162,890 mt, down 11 percent from the first two months of 2014, while value was 4 percent above last year’s pace at $1.04 billion.
February pork exports were 173,771 mt – down 5 percent year-over-year but 8 percent higher than in January. Export value was $470.7 million – down 7 percent from a year ago but 3 percent higher than in January. Cumulative 2015 totals were 334,936 mt valued at $926 million, down 10 percent in volume and 11 percent in value from January-February 2014.
Pork exports to Korea largest since 2011
February pork exports accounted for 25 percent of total production and 20 percent for muscle cuts only – lower than a year ago, but a significant improvement over January. Export value per head slaughtered was $51.86 in February (down 11 percent from a year ago) and $49.16 for January-February (down 13 percent).
February export volume to Korea totaled 22,615 mt – up 79 percent from a year ago and the largest monthly total in nearly four years – while export value nearly doubled to $72.1 million. For January-February, exports to Korea increased 58 percent in volume (37,877 mt) and 77 percent in value ($123.5 million). Taiwan was the only other bright spot in Asia for U.S. pork, as February exports increased 149 percent in volume (1,763 mt) and 131 percent in value ($3.7 million) from a year ago. Through February, exports to Taiwan were up 86 percent in volume (2,770 mt) and 59 percent in value ($5.6 million) when compared to last year’s low levels.
This growth has been offset, however, by lower exports to Japan and China/Hong Kong. February pork exports to Japan declined 6 percent in volume (33,582 mt) and 11 percent in value ($124.2 million) from a year ago. For January-February, exports fell 9 percent in volume (68,150 mt) and 16 percent in value ($254.1 million). For China/Hong Kong, February exports were down 41 percent from a year ago in both volume (21,903 mt) and value ($49.7 million). January-February exports fell 45 percent to 39,584 mt valued at $92.4 million.
“The West Coast port situation was particularly damaging for our chilled pork exports to Japan, because it compromised our ability to meet customers’ shelf-life requirements,” Seng explained. “The ability to ship chilled product to Japan has always given U.S. pork a distinct quality advantage over frozen pork from Europe. Now that we have chilled pork moving again, it is very important that we recapture this customer base. But this will not be easy, as pork from the EU continues to enter Japan at lower-than-usual prices. This is exacerbated by the strength of the U.S. dollar versus both the yen and euro.”
February pork exports to Mexico were up 8 percent in volume (58,055 mt) but slipped 4 percent in value ($104.9 million). For January-February, exports to Mexico totaled 117,361 mt (up 3 percent) valued at $217.7 million (down 2 percent). Pork exports to most Western Hemisphere markets trended higher year-over-year in February, including Canada, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Guatemala, though exports were lower to Colombia and Chile.