US red meat exports ended Q1 at elevated levels
US red meat exports ended the first quarter on a very high note, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), with March beef and pork exports each posting the highest monthly value on record. Pork exports and shipments of beef muscle cuts also set new volume records in March.
As a fact, in March, the export value of beef broke the $800 million mark for the first time, reaching $801.9 million, up 14% year-over-year. Beef exports totaled 124,808 tonnes in March, up 8% from a year ago and the second largest of the post-BSE era.
Beef muscle cut exports set new monthly records for both volume (98,986 tonnes, up 13% from a year ago) and value ($718.3 million, up 17%). For the first quarter, beef exports pulled even with last year’s pace at 333,348 tonnes, valued at $2.12 billion. For beef muscle cuts, first-quarter exports increased 4% to 262,914 tonnes, valued at $1.9 billion (up 5%).
Beef exports to South Korea were strong again in March at 24,104 tonnes, up 7% from a year ago, valued at $175.9 million (up 6%). For the first quarter, exports were 8% ahead of last year’s pace in both volume (68,996 tonnes) and value ($503.9 million), making Korea this year’s leading value destination for US beef. Korea is buying more US chuck roll, short plate, shoulder clod, and loin cuts even as imports from Australia also trend higher, reflecting the country’s strong demand for beef.
March beef exports to China were far above last year’s low totals and reached a new monthly record of 14,552 tonnes, valued at $109.9 million. This pushed first-quarter exports more than 1,500% above last year’s pace in both volume (31,058 tonnes) and value ($234.1 million), and exports increased about 25% from the strong fourth quarter of 2020. US beef accounted for 3.4% of China’s first-quarter imports, up from less than 1% at this time last year, and the US is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China. Additional US plants were approved for export to China in April, raising the prospects for further growth in the coming months.
Japan remains the top volume market for US beef, with first-quarter exports 9% below last year’s pace at 75,409 tonnes, valued at $485.2 million (down 7%). March exports were impacted by a higher safeguard tariff rate, which was triggered on March 18 and remained in effect for 30 days. The tariff rate for US beef muscle cuts is now 25%, down from the 38.5% rate imposed during the safeguard period and mirroring the rate Japan has applied to imports from other major suppliers since April 1.
March pork exports were record-large at 294,724 tonnes, up 1% from last year’s strong total, and set a new value record at $794.9 million (up 4%). Pork muscle cuts also set new monthly records for both volume (247,660 tonnes, up 2% from a year ago) and value $689.2 million (up 4%). For the first quarter, pork exports were 7% below last year’s pace in both volume (782,620 tonnes) and value ($2.07 billion). Pork muscle cuts followed a similar trend at 659,420 tonnes (down 7%), valued at $1.79 billion (down 8%).
China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for US pork in 2021, despite first-quarter exports falling 20% from a year ago to 236,498 tonnes, valued at $532.3 million (down 27%). March export value to the region was $202.5 million, down 14% from a year ago but the highest in 10 months as exports of bone-in ham and shoulder cuts to China set a new monthly record.
Strong demand for US pork was also reported in the Philippines, which tripled its imports compared to 2019 to reach a volume of 25,377 tonnes, up 190% year-over-year and 86% above the strong fourth-quarter pace. Export value more than tripled in the first quarter to $62.4 million, up 201%. This was achieved before the Philippine government ordered a temporary decrease in tariff rates for imported pork muscle cuts in an effort to bolster supplies and stabilize prices, which took effect April 7. Pork muscle cut exports to the Philippines soared to a record 11,736 tonnes in March, up nearly 500% from a year ago and more than double the February volume.
“It’s very gratifying to see such an outstanding breakout month for US beef and pork exports. Exports were off to a respectable start in 2021, considering the logistical and labor challenges the industry is facing and ongoing restrictions on the foodservice sector in many key markets. While these obstacles are not totally behind us, the March results show the situation is improving and the export totals better reflect the strong level of global demand for US red meat,” commented USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom.
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