U.S. red meat exports maintain robust pace

Beef exports to China continued to reach new heights in November, up 700% from a year ago

Krissa Welshans, Livestock Editor

January 11, 2021

6 Min Read
bring imports exports port container ship FDS

U.S. beef exports posted one of the best months on record in November, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. November was also a strong month for pork exports, which already surpassed the full-year volume and value records set in 2019.

"Demand for U.S. beef in the global retail sector has been outstanding, and we expect this to continue in 2021," said USMEF President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Halstrom. "Unfortunately, foodservice continues to face COVID-related challenges. We expect a broader foodservice recovery this year, especially from mid-2021, but will likely still see interruptions in some markets. For U.S. pork, it's great to set new records with an entire month to spare, but especially gratifying to see a diverse range of markets contributing to U.S. export growth. USMEF still expects strong pork demand from China in 2021, but we're seeing a much-needed rebound in other regions, especially in Western Hemisphere markets."

November beef exports totaled 115,337 metric tons (mt), up 6% from a year ago and the largest since July 2019. Export value climbed 8% year over year to $707.5 million. November beef muscle cut exports were the third largest on record at 91,338 mt (up 13%, trailing only July and August 2019), valued at $630.4 million (up 11%). November exports to China and Guatemala set new monthly records, while shipments to Mexico were the largest since 2016. Exports to Taiwan remained strong and are well-positioned to set in a new annual record in 2020.

Through November, beef exports were 6% lower year over year in volume (1.13 million mt) and down 7% in value ($6.9 billion). January-November muscle cut exports were 3% below 2019 in volume (883,012 mt) and 6% lower in value ($6.11 billion).

November pork export volume was steady year over year at 258,801 mt, with value down 2% to $697.5 million. Although China/Hong Kong remained the largest destination for U.S. pork in November, momentum continued to build in other markets including Japan, Mexico and Central America.

January-November pork exports set new annual records for both volume (2.72 million mt, up 14% from the previous year's pace) and value ($7.03 billion, up 13%). Pork muscle cut exports also shattered previous annual records, increasing 18% year over year to 2.29 million mt, valued at $6.08 billion (up 15%).

Led by strong variety meat demand in Mexico, U.S. lamb exports reached 1,297 mt in November, up 4% from a year ago, valued at $1.5 million (down 32%). For January through November, lamb exports were up 29% year-over-year at 18,652 mt, but value slipped 8% to $21.9 million.

Record shipments to China, welcome rebound in Mexico for beef

According to USMEF, beef exports to China continued to reach new heights in November at 8,372 mt, up 700% from a year ago, with value up 642% to $60.1 million. To compare, exports to China for all of 2019 totaled $86.1 million. For January through November, exports to China totaled 33,081 mt, up 277% from last year. Value rose 239% over the same period last year, to $237.8 million.

“Shipments to China have trended higher since the March implementation of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement but have been especially strong since the mid-summer rebound in China’s foodservice sector,” USMEF noted. “The U.S. is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China, with U.S. grain-fed volumes surpassing Australia’s monthly shipments since September.”

COVID-19’s impact on Mexico’s beef demand has been more persistent, driving 2020 exports sharply lower, data showed. Still, USMEF said November results were very encouraging, with exports fully rebounding to pre-COVID levels and reaching the highest volume since 2016 at 22,871 mt, up 23% from a year ago, valued at $105.1 million (up 21%). Through November, beef exports to Mexico were down 23% in volume (165,721 mt) and 28% lower in value ($725.7 million) compared to 2019.

November was another excellent month for beef exports to Taiwan, with volume up 8% from a year ago to 5,242 mt, valued at $48.7 million (up 13%). USMEF said a strong December could push exports to Taiwan to another annual record, as January-November exports were 3% above 2019’s record pace at 59,404 mt, valued at $509.1 million (down 1%).

“The U.S. continues to dominate Taiwan’s chilled beef imports, capturing 76% market share.”

Barring no major new global health or economic disruptions, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist Derrell Peel said U.S. beef trade is expected to be supportive in 2021. 

“Beef exports are forecast to be modestly higher year over year, returning roughly to 2019 levels. Beef imports are currently forecast to decrease from the 2020 spike to pre-COVID levels or perhaps a bit lower.”

Still, he said numerous factors will affect U.S. and global beef trade in 2021 including exchange rates, continuing demand for beef in China, the rebuilding of the Australian beef industry, ongoing trade tensions between China and Australia/New Zealand, and Mexico’s economic situation.

China remains largest destination for pork export

Although China/Hong Kong remained the largest destination for U.S. pork in November, momentum continued to build in other markets, USMEF relayed. November exports to China/Hong Kong were 3% below the previous year’s large volume at 83,396 mt and fell 5% in value to $193.8 million. However, through November, exports to the region were still up 72% at 955,008 mt and value was up 85% at $2.18 billion.

November exports to Japan increased 6% from a year ago to 34,676 mt, valued at $146.4 million (up 7%). Through November, exports to Japan were up 4% year over year in volume (353,636 mt) and increased 6% in value ($1.49 billion). U.S. share of Japan’s total pork imports increased to 36%, up from 31% in 2019, driven by strong demand for U.S. ground seasoned pork and chilled and frozen U.S. pork cuts, following the Jan. 1, 2020 implementation of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.

USMEF reported that U.S. pork shipments to Mexico continued to trend higher in November at 65,136 mt, up 13% from a year ago, with value steady at $124 million. Through November, exports were down 4% to 616,827 mt, valued at $1.02 billion (down 11%). Pork muscle cut exports to Mexico were steady with 2019 at 520,157 mt, valued at $871.2 million (down 9%). U.S. share of Mexico’s pork imports jumped to 87% in 2020, up from a low of 82% in 2019.

Led by Honduras and Guatemala, November pork exports to Central America increased 8% year-over-year in both volume (10,712 mt) and value ($26.7 million). Through November, exports to the region pulled within 1% of 2019’s record pace at 86,349 mt, valued at $209.2 million (also down 1%).

The full results can be found here.

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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