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Key meat trade facing challenges

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Four of five largest beef export markets dropped sharply in second quarter and will be watched for recovery in second half.

The U.S. remains on track for record production of beef, pork and broilers in 2020, but trade will be key because the forecast for the meat trade has been revised due disruptions associated with COVID-19, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel noted this week.

In fact, he said there is more uncertainty about global meat markets going forward.

Pork exports through June were up 27.4% year over year, led by a 335.6% year-over-year increase in exports to China. Peel relayed that China has replaced Mexico as the top pork export destination since exports to Mexico have been down about 2.8% for the year to date. Exports to number-three pork market Japan have been up 2.8% so far in 2020 following a 23.2% year-over-year decline in June.

Broiler exports are up 4.2% year over year so far in 2020, Peel said. June data showed a 1.1% decrease from one year ago. According to Peel, Mexico remains the largest broiler export market, with year-to-date exports up 2.0% following a 6.0% year-over-year decrease in June. China is currently the second-largest broiler export market, accounting for 7.6% of total broiler exports for the first half of 2020, but the sum of broiler exports to China and Hong Kong, which Peel said is a better measure of total broiler demand in China, is up 173.5% year over year in the January to June period.

On the beef side, Peel reported that beef exports were down 7.6% for the January to June period following a 33.0% year-over-year drop in June and a similar decrease in May. He said Japan remains the largest U.S. beef export market, with exports up 5.6% year over year during the first half of 2020. However, this follows a 20.7% year-over-year decrease in June and a 23.6% decrease in May.

Beef exports to South Korea, the second-largest market, were down 7.4% year over year through June following double-digit monthly decreases in April, May and June.

Mexico, the number-three beef export market in recent years, has seen monthly decreases averaging 66.9% in the second quarter. Peel said this has dropped Mexico to the fourth-largest beef export market, with a year-to-date total down 37.7% from one year ago.

Beef exports to Canada, currently the third-largest market, are up 12.0% in the first half of the year.

Meanwhile, China remains a small share of the beef export market (1.4% of total exports this year), but shipments are up 70.9% for the year to date. Hong Kong is down 8.0% so far this year. Peel said the combined export total of China and Hong Kong is up 0.2% for the year to date.

Due to the weaker global economic situation, Peel said meat trade forecasts have been revised.

“Total pork and broiler exports are still projected higher year over year, but beef exports are now projected to be lower year over year,” he said. “China will continue to be a major driver of global protein trade, especially pork. Mexico remains a major concern, with dramatic economic weakness expected to continue.”

Peel pointed out that four of the five largest beef exports markets dropped sharply in the second quarter and will be watched closely for recovery in the second half of the year. 

“China will remain a minor beef export market in 2020 but is likely to continue growing, barring major geopolitical disruptions,” he said.

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