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Global meat demand remains robust as lockdowns ease

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Asian countries continue to reopen after lockdowns as U.S. still battling COVID-19.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported this week that global demand for U.S. pork and beef has remained very robust in 2020, despite COVID-19-related disruptions in many countries' restaurant and hospitality sectors. Dan Halstrom, president and chief executive officer of USMEF, noted that retail meat demand has also surged in many markets, along with sales through e-commerce platforms and delivery services.

Recently released numbers showed that U.S. pork exports were up 40% in March, and beef exports were up 9%. However, Halstrom cautioned that first-quarter export results did not reflect recent interruptions in the U.S. supply chain, which he anticipates will have some negative impact on April and May exports.

Nonetheless, his outlook for 2020 remains positive due, in part, to market access gains in Japan and China. The U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, implemented on Jan. 1, lowered tariff rates for U.S. beef and pork and put U.S. meat products on a level tariff playing field with major competitors, while the red meat trade provisions of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic & Trade Agreement that took effect in late March lowered barriers for U.S. pork and significantly expanded access for U.S. beef.

While Halstrom said shortages due to African swine fever have already benefitted the U.S. pork industry in China, the Phase One agreement has benefitted pork as well.

On the beef side, he noted, “I don’t think we’ve fully seen the reflection of the positives here. We will see that starting in the second quarter and into the third quarter.”

Even as the U.S. is still in the midst of the COIVD-19 lockdown, USMEF is seeing a shift out of lockdowns in Asian markets.

“Markets like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China have actually been out of the lockdowns now for almost two months. Korea and Vietnam have been out of it for a few weeks, and our largest market, Japan, had some relaxations this week on 39 of the 47 prefectures, and the rest of them will be open by the end of May,” Halstrom said. “So, we’re seeing a shift back into foodservice demand in the Asian markets. It’s not back to normal, but it’s slow but steady progress.”

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