U.S. beef exports soared to another new value record in August, topping the $1 billion mark for the first time, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork exports posted another strong month in August, remaining ahead of the record pace established in 2020.
Led by record shipments to China and the largest exports of the year to Japan, August beef exports totaled 132,577 metric tons (mt). Export volume was up 21% from a year ago and the second largest of 2021, while export value climbed 55% to $1.04 billion. For January through August, beef exports increased 18% from a year ago to 955,407 mt, with value up 34% to $6.62 billion. Exports were also 6% higher in volume and up 20% in value compared to the record pace established in 2018. In addition to setting new records in China, beef exports are also on a record pace to South Korea and Central America and have rebounded significantly to Mexico.
According to USMEF, beef exports to China have climbed steadily since early 2020, when market access barriers were greatly reduced under the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement. August marked the best performance to date, with exports topping 20,000 mt for the first time and value reaching $182.2 million (both volume and value were more than five times the year-ago totals). Through August, exports to China increased more than 800% from a year ago in both volume (119,685 mt) and value ($955.2 million), with U.S. beef accounting for 5.6% of China’s imports (up from less than 1% last year). Combined exports to China/Hong Kong climbed 139% year-over-year to 154,353 mt, while value reached $1.28 billion (up 148%).
Pork exports totaled 225,822 mt in August, up 4% from a year ago, and value increased 20% to $633.9 million as record shipments to Mexico and strong growth in several other markets helped offset the expected slowdown in muscle cut exports to China. For January through August, exports were 1.5% above last year at just over 2 million mt, while value climbed 10% to $5.62 billion. Pork exports are on a record pace to Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic, and chilled pork exports to Japan and South Korea are above last year.
USMEF noted that while China’s swine herd recovery has caused pork muscle cut exports to moderate in 2021, the country’s demand for U.S. pork variety meat remains extremely strong and continues to play a key role in maximizing carcass value. Through August, pork variety meat exports to China/Hong Kong increased 23% to 231,283 mt, valued at $558 million (up 29%). With pork variety meat shipments also trending higher to Mexico, Southeast Asia, Central and South America and Oceania, export value is on a record pace at $848.8 million, up 26% from a year ago and 11% ahead of the peak year of 2017.
"The August export results would be impressive under any circumstances but achieving these totals despite all the COVID-related obstacles at home and overseas is truly remarkable," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Our transportation and labor situation is challenging, and customers continue to face an uncertain business climate due to foodservice restrictions and other economic headwinds. Yet international buyers remain committed to the quality and consistency delivered by U.S. red meat, and the U.S. industry has gone to tremendous lengths to keep shipments moving."
Halstrom emphasized the broad-based growth achieved in 2021, noting that it bodes well for both near and long-term exports.
"Obviously breaking the $1 billion mark in a single month is a huge milestone for U.S. beef, and that's not possible unless a wide range of markets are hitting on all cylinders," he said. "But the trendlines for U.S. pork are also very encouraging. Just a few years ago, it was an achievement to reach $6 billion in pork export value in a full year. In 2021, exports will exceed that total with an entire quarter to spare."
A detailed summary of the January-August red meat export results, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.