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Pork exports top record, beef finishes strong

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Pork exports to China/Hong Kong totaled 1.04 million metric tons in 2020, up 56% from a year ago.

U.S. pork exports reached nearly 3 million metric tons (mt) in 2020, topping the 2019 record by 11%, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork export value also climbed 11% to a record $7.71 billion. USMEF pointed out that exports set new annual records in China/Hong Kong, Central America, Vietnam, and Chile, and achieved strong fourth-quarter growth in Japan and Mexico

U.S. beef exports finished 2020 lower year-over-year, falling 5% in both volume (1.25 million mt) and value ($7.65 billion). Still, USMEF said beef exports finished the year with very strong momentum, with fourth-quarter volume up 4.5% from 2019 and posting one of the best months on record in December. Beef exports to China were record-large in 2020 and a new volume record was also achieved in Taiwan.

"Obviously the surge in demand from China, especially in the first half of 2020, was a driving force behind the record performance for U.S. pork exports," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "But China was not the only success story in 2020, as exports achieved growth in a broad range of markets. Diversifying export markets is a top priority for USMEF and the U.S. industry, and that strategy paid dividends - especially in the fourth quarter, when exports to China/Hong Kong were down 9% from 2019 but shipments to the rest of the world nearly offset that slowdown."

USMEF relayed that beef exports were heavily impacted by foodservice restrictions in many major markets but still trended higher late in the year, bolstered by very strong retail and holiday demand.

"Consumers across the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by seeking high-quality products they could enjoy at home, and U.S. beef and pork definitely met this need," Halstrom said. "We expect these retail and home-delivery demand trends to continue even as sit-down restaurant dining recovers, creating robust opportunities for U.S. red meat export growth."

December pork exports totaled 259,654 mt, down 8% from the very large year-ago volume, with value down 10% to $687.2 million. December muscle cut exports were also down 8% at 219,224 mt, valued at $590.2 million (down 11%). For the full year, pork muscle cut exports were record-large at 2.51 million mt, up 15% from 2019, valued at a record $6.67 billion (up 12%).

December beef exports totaled 119,892 mt, up 8% from December 2019 and the largest in nearly 10 years. Export value was $744 million, up 9% from a year ago and the second-highest total on record. December exports of beef muscle cuts were the second largest ever at 93,941 mt, climbing 11% year-over-year in both volume and value ($659.8 million). For 2020, beef muscle cut exports were down 2% year-over-year at 976,953 mt and fell 5% in value to $6.77 billion.

Pork exports reach new highs

According to USMEF, pork exports to China/Hong Kong totaled 1.04 million mt in 2020, up 56% from a year ago, while value climbed 63% to $2.37 billion.

“Shipments to the region accounted for about one-third of total U.S. export volume, but this percentage declined later in the year as exports achieved more broad-based growth,” noted USMEF.

While USMEF does not expect 2021 exports to China/Hong Kong to match the levels posted over the past year, the region will still have a strong need for imported pork.

While pork exports to Mexico finished lower in both volume (688,253 mt, down 3%) and value ($1.15 billion) compared to 2019, the market showed an impressive rebound late in the year. December exports increased 8% to 71,426 mt, the third consecutive month of year-over-year volume growth.

Pork exports to Japan also gained momentum in the fourth quarter (up 12%) as the U.S. industry continued to capitalize on tariff relief provided in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement. 2020 exports to Japan finished 5% higher than a year ago at 386,700 mt, with value up 6% to $1.63 billion. U.S. market share rebounded to 36% of Japan’s total, up from a low of 31% in 2019.

Asian markets shine for beef exports

Demand for U.S. beef exports proved resilient in most Asian markets in 2020, though with substantial shifts from foodservice to retail in some destinations. The limited labor situation challenged exports of certain items, especially variety meats, although December exports of beef variety meats were the largest since March.

Exports to leading market Japan slipped 2% year-over-year to 306,140 mt, with value holding steady at $1.94 billion. Beef muscle cut exports to Japan climbed 5% to 259,412 mt, with value up 1% to $1.57 billion. U.S. beef regained market share in Japan, climbing from 41% in 2019 to 44% in 2020, benefiting from the duty reductions in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.

Beef exports to South Korea also held up relatively well, though shipments trailed the 2019 record by 4% at 246,231 mt, valued at $1.72 billion (down 6.5%). U.S. beef made substantial market share gains in Korea in 2020, capturing nearly 53% of total imports (up from 51.5% in 2019) and 64% of chilled imports (up from 62%). Korea’s imports of U.S. chilled beef set another new record in 2020, totaling 62,825 mt (up 14.5%).

The U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement took effect in March, making beef from a much larger percentage of U.S. cattle eligible for the rapidly growing Chinese market. The U.S. industry capitalized in a big way, with exports quadrupling year-over-year to a record 42,813 mt, valued at $310.2 million (up 260%). Since September, the U.S. has surpassed Australia as the largest supplier of grain-beef to China.

A detailed summary of 2020 export results, including market-specific highlights, is available here.

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