Meat export volumes higher over year despite lower value

Latest export data reminder of how disruptive port dispute was for meat industry.

January exports of U.S. beef and pork were modestly higher than a year ago, but export value slipped for both products, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef exports increased 3% in volume from a year ago to 82,301 metric tons, but the value was down 13% to $438.1 million. Exports to most Asian markets, which were affected early last year by an impasse in the West Coast port labor dispute, increased in January, but these gains were largely offset by lower volumes shipped to markets in the Western Hemisphere and the Middle East. January exports accounted for 12% of total beef production and 9% for muscle cuts only — steady with January 2015. Export value per head of fed slaughter was $239.88, down 11% from a year ago.

“Although it is encouraging to see beef exports to the Asian markets performing above year-ago levels, these results are a reminder of how disruptive the West Coast situation was for our industry,” USMEF president and chief executive officer Philip Seng said. “While we still face a tariff gap in Japan compared to Australian beef, Australia’s recent slowdown in production presents an opportunity to reclaim market share – an opportunity the U.S. industry is pursuing very aggressively. U.S. beef is also capitalizing on the tight domestic supplies in Korea, making strides in both the retail and foodservice sectors.”

Pork exports increased 4% in volume from a year ago to 167,010 mt, but their value fell 11% to $404.7 million. Exports to China were up significantly from last year’s low volumes, reflecting the recent reinstatement of several U.S. pork plants and continued strong demand for imported pork in China. Volumes also increased to Central and South America, the Caribbean and Oceania. January exports accounted for 22% of total pork production and 19% for muscle cuts only — up from 21% and 17%, respectively, last year. Export value per head slaughtered was $41.53, down 11% from a year ago.

“Having more pork plants and more product eligible for China is absolutely critical,” Seng explained. “Last year, China, Korea and Mexico were the major destinations with an increased need for imported pork. The U.S. industry capitalized on two of those situations, but the (European Union) reaped most of the benefits in China. It’s important that U.S. pork competes more vigorously in China in 2016.”

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