US meat exports reach new heights
Data released by USDA and compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) show that meat exports for the first five months of the year have surpassed the expectations, especially in May when pork and beef exports have reached new heights.
"The outstanding May performance is especially gratifying when you consider where red meat exports stood a year ago. The industry faced unprecedented, COVID-related obstacles at all levels of the supply chain, and a very uncertain international business climate. These challenges are still not behind us, but international demand has been very resilient," noted USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom.
While May beef exports were expected to far exceed last year’s low totals, export volume soared to a record 133,440 tonnes, up 68% from a year ago, and value increased 88% to $904.3 million. This was the third consecutive monthly value record for beef exports, which had never exceeded $800 million before March 2021. From January through May, exports reached 587,838 tonnes, up 15% from a year ago, while value increased 22% to $3.84 billion.
May pork exports totaled 283,617 tonnes, up 16% from a year ago and the third-largest on record (trailing only March 2021 and March 2020). Export value exceeded $800 million for the first time in May, climbing 31% to $813.2 million. For January through May, pork exports were slightly below last year’s record pace at 1.34 million tonnes (down 1%), but export value increased 3% to $3.63 billion.
Demand for US beef has increased in countries such as South Korea (29,403 tonnes, up 61% from a year ago; worth $225.4 million, up 87%), Japan (30,721 tonnes, up 54% from a year ago; valued at $208.3 million, up 71%), and China (16,472 tonnes; worth $130.2 million). In fact, January-May beef exports to China reached 64,763 tonnes valued at $474.7 million – each up about 1,200% year-over-year, establishing new annual records and placing the United States as the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China.
May pork exports have performed excellent in Mexico (71,370 tonnes, up 89% from a year ago; valued at $151.6 million, up 158%), the Philippines (10,443 tonnes, up 353% from a year ago; with value up 370% to $28.7 million), Japan (936,504 tonnes, up 34% from a year ago; valued at $154.7 million, up 39%). Still, China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for US pork in 2021. This is partly due to sustained demand for variety meat, for which exports through May were up 3% to 136,577 tonnes, with value up 9% to $332 million. But a slowdown in muscle cuts meant total exports were down 22% to 408,896 tonnes, valued at $952.7 million (down 24%). The continued decline in China’s pork and live hog prices suggests this trend is likely to accelerate in the coming months, underscoring the importance of further export growth to other destinations.
Not an easy way ahead
"USMEF remains optimistic that international demand will remain strong in the second half of 2021, but the road ahead is not an easy one. The US industry must continue to be innovative and aggressive in defending existing market share, while also expanding our customer base by responding to COVID-driven changes in the marketplace and shifts in consumer trends and preferences,” added Dan Halstrom.
He also cautioned that US labor availability remains a major concern and limitation for the industry, and exporters continue to face significant obstacles when shipping products overseas. Due to the ongoing, fluid impact of COVID-19, foodservice restrictions also continue to affect several key markets where dine-in service is either suspended or subject to capacity limits and shorter hours, and tourism has not yet returned in many countries.
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