US pork and beef exports rebound in May

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

Japan has driven US red meat exports in May
Japan has driven US red meat exports in May

Related tags Beef Pork Lamb

US exports of pork and beef saw a resurgence in May, driven by Japanese demand.

According to figures released by USDA and compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), pork exports totalled 217,999 metric tons (mt) in May, static in volume terms, while value increased 1% to $567.8m.

Pork exports to Japan increased 5% year-on-year in volume terms and 3% in value terms.

Stronger May volumes saw a  growth in chilled pork, up 2.5% to 19,795 mt. Japanese import data shows the biggest decrease from the US is in ground seasoned pork (GSP), where the US faces the full 20% duty and competitors pay 13.3%.

Despite the 50% retaliatory duty on US pork to China, May also brought rise in pork exports to China/Hong Kong, which increased 33% from a year ago in volume to 45,442 mt, while value increased 5% to $84m.

Mexican trade barriers lifted

In May, the 20% retaliatory duty on most US pork entering Mexico was removed as the US, Mexico and Canada reached an agreement on steel and aluminum tariffs. While the return to duty-free status is expected to fuel a rebound in pork exports to Mexico, it came too late to have much impact on May results as exports fell 26% from a year ago in volume to 52,555mt and 15% in value to $98.4m.

“May export results for US pork were very encouraging, especially the renewed momentum in Japan and China/Hong Kong,”​ said USMEF president and CEO Dan Halstrom. “When exports to Mexico get back on track and trade talks with Japan and China show progress, this will be a very welcome lift for the US pork industry.”

Elsewhere, South America proved to be the biggest market in volume terms for US pork while Oceania exports continued to rise.

Beef exports

Beef exports during May were also steady year-over-year in volume (117,541 mt) while export value increased 1% to $727.6m, the second-highest on record, trailing only the August 2018 total of $751.7m.

Beef exports to South Korea saw a record pace in May, climbing 11% to 23,004mt and 13% in value to $165m. Exports to Taiwan strengthened for the second straight month in May at 5,873mt, valued at $52.6 million, up 28%.

Though slightly below last year’s level, Japan rebounded to 29,749mt, while value was down 3% to $190.8m. Despite tariff disadvantages, US beef’s share of Japan’s imports is reported to have held nearly steady this year at 41%, but with a level playing field there are “tremendous opportunities for growth”.

“The explosive growth US beef has achieved in Korea and Taiwan is a testament to the quality of the product and the outstanding customer base the US industry has established over the years,”​ Halstrom said. “That same dynamic is present in Japan, on an even larger scale. But for Japan to remain the ‘strong growth’ column, it is essential that we have market access comparable to our key competitors.”

Mexico remained a solid market for US beef in 2019, driven by a strong growth in muscle cut exports, which were up 7% from a year ago in volume terms and 10% in value terms. Retaliatory tariffs in China and other market access challenges limited US beef exports to China/Hong Kong, with January-May volume down one-third to 38,405mt and value declining by 27% to $322m.

Mexico drives lamb growth

US lamb exports have seen a momentum growth, led by strong variety meat demand in Mexico. Lamb variety meat exports to Mexico set a record in 2018 at more than 10,000mt. One of the factors driving this success is the growing popularity of lamb neck meat for barbacoa, which the USMEF has aggressively promoted to importers in Mexico. Overall, May lamb exports totalled 1,310mt, up 31% from a year ago, while value increased 30% to $2.3m.

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