Exports of U.S. pork and beef registered a solid performance in March, led by extremely strong pork sales to Mexico and a surge in beef exports to Vietnam, Japan and the Middle East, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Pork plus pork variety meat exports rose 16% in volume and 17% in value over March 2008. Compared to the first quarter of 2008, pork exports have risen by 8% in volume to 489,348 metric tons (1.08 billion pounds) and by 10% in value to $1.12 billion. More than 23% of first quarter pork and variety meat production was exported.
Beef plus beef variety meat exports for the month jumped by 5% in volume over March 2008, but declined by about 1% in value. This was due in large part to a 17% decline in variety meat export value, offsetting a 4% increase in muscle cut value. In the first quarter, beef exports increased 3% in volume to 203,475 metric tons (448.6 million pounds) and by 1% in value to $690.9 million. Exports accounted for 9.5% of beef and variety meat production in the first quarter.
Mexico leads surge in pork exports, but current conditions create uncertainty
Total U.S. pork exports to Mexico in March (45,741 metric tons or 100.8 million pounds) nearly doubled in volume from a year ago and rose 76% in value to $65.2 million. For the first quarter of 2009, exports to Mexico increased 74% in volume (136,898 metric tons or 301.8 million pounds) and by 66% in value to $204.7 million.
This performance is remarkable considering the sluggish economic conditions in Mexico, though these results do not reflect the economic slowdown Mexico has endured over the past few weeks due to H1N1 Influenza.
"The good news is that U.S. pork has been performing extremely well in Mexico, and we have continued to grow the market at a very strong pace,” said Chad Russell, USMEF regional director for Mexico and the Dominican Republic. "The bad news, obviously, is the disruption that has taken place in the market since that time. We have a significant rebuilding project underway with regard to pork demand and consumer activity in general, but these numbers give us confidence that U.S. pork has a solid following and will bounce back quickly.”
Japan continues to be the mainstay value market for U.S. pork, with first quarter exports rising 13% in volume to 119,445 metric tons (263.3 million pounds) and by 26% in value to $424 million. March results reflected a slowdown, however, as pork exports rose just 1% in value over a year ago while slipping by 3.5% in volume.
"Japan is still performing quite well, but we're feeling the effects of higher domestic pork inventory levels, which are 132% higher than last year,” said USMEF Japan Director Gregory Hanes. "The influenza issue has been handled very well here, and we don't expect lasting impact from that standpoint. But other market factors such as low domestic prices and the weak global economy have certainly made for tougher conditions in the second quarter of the year.”
Pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region have declined by 36 percent compared to the first quarter of 2008, with exports to Russia declining 38% in volume and 44% in value. These declines have been largely offset, however, by growth in Taiwan, the ASEAN region, the Caribbean, Australia and Central and South America.
First quarter pork plus pork variety meat exports to Taiwan increased 158% in volume and 121% in value over the same period in 2008. Performance was also strong in the ASEAN region, where an increase of 56% in volume and 58% in value was led by a near-doubling of exports to the Philippines. Exports to the Dominican Republic also doubled over last year, leading to a 74% increase in both volume and value in U.S. pork shipped to the Caribbean region. Exports to Australia have risen by 58% in volume and 63% in value, while Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia led Central and South America to a combined increase of 49% in volume and 53% in value.
For USMEF Chairman Jon Caspers, a pork producer from Swaledale, Iowa, these results underscore the importance of building diversified international markets for U.S. pork.
"I am extremely proud of the fact that U.S. pork has built such a strong global presence,” Caspers said. "This diversity allows the pork industry to maintain a strong overall performance, even when we encounter obstacles or adverse conditions in specific markets.”
Beef exports fight to overcome declines in top two markets
Reduced first-quarter beef exports to both Mexico (down 21% in volume and value) and Canada (down 13% in volume and 20% in value) have placed increased pressure on other international markets in maintaining growth for U.S. beef. Some have responded remarkably well, however, including the ASEAN region, Japan and the Middle East.
Beef exports to the ASEAN region increased 68% in volume in the first quarter to 19,645 metric tons (43.3 million pounds) and doubled in value to $64 million. Vietnam led this charge, recording a 93% increase in volume and a jump in value of 146%.
"Southeast Asia and the Greater China Region continue to perform extremely well for U.S. beef,” said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region. "USMEF has really laid the groundwork for growth in these markets, introducing new cuts and engaging in extensive training in the retail and foodservice sectors. It's gratifying to see these efforts yielding such positive results.”
March beef exports to Japan climbed 58% in volume and 53% in value over last year, leading to increases for the first quarter of 32% and 29% respectively. The additional surge in March was due in part to the availability of more cattle eligible for export to this market under the 20-month age restriction – an advantage that will continue through the summer months.
Total beef exports to the Middle East actually declined slightly in the first quarter, but muscle cut exports to the region jumped by 84% in volume and 41% in value. While these gains were somewhat offset by a decline in beef liver exports to Egypt, the surge in muscle cut exports suggests the region is developing into an attractive destination for higher-value products.
"Although some industries have slumped recently in the Middle East, economic conditions have held up fairly well overall during the global recession,” said John Brook, USMEF regional director for Europe and the Middle East. "While this market has always been a mainstay for beef variety meats, we are clearly cultivating some broader opportunities there at this time.”
Mexico, Caribbean are top destinations for U.S. lamb
Lamb exports continued their solid growth during the first quarter, climbing by 62% in volume and 26% in value over the same period in 2008. Exports to Mexico doubled in volume during this time, and grew by 127% in value. The Caribbean continues to be the primary value destination for U.S. lamb, increasing by 27% over the first quarter of last year and accounting for about 56% of total export value.
Complete March export statistics are available online.