While still impacted by severe congestion in the West Coast ports, February exports of U.S. beef, pork and lamb bounced back to some degree from the totals posted in January, according to data released by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Conditions are steadily improving on the West Coast, where congestion related to a labor dispute slowed container traffic over the past four months, the report said. However, it added that the tentative West Coast contract agreement was not reached until February 20, so the stituation still had a significant impact on February meat exports.
“We didn’t see much relief from the shipping backlog until March, and container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal,” said USMEF president and chief executive officer Philip Seng. “However, the new labor contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the U.S. meat industry to begin the process of putting this crisis behind us. The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we’re looking forward to further improvement when March results are published.”
In addition to port congestion, February exports also continued to face significant challenges such as the strong U.S. dollar, large supplies from key competitors and market access barriers, said the report.
February beef exports totaled 82,991 metric tons (mt) – down 3% year-over-year but a 4% improvement over January. Export value of $535.3 million was up 12% from a year ago and 6% higher than in January. January-February volume was 162,890 mt, down 11% from the first two months of 2014, while value was 4% above last year’s pace at $1.04 billion.
February pork exports were 173,771 mt – down 5% year-over-year but 8% higher than in January. Export value was $470.7 million – down 7% from a year ago but 3% higher than in January. Cumulative 2015 totals were 334,936 mt valued at $926 million, down 10% in volume and 11% in value from January-February 2014.
Japan, Korea, Mexico fuel beef export results
February beef exports accounted for 14% of total production and 11% for muscle cuts only – ratios similar to a year ago, but higher than in January. Export value per head of fed slaughter was $318.26 in February (up 15% from a year ago) and $293.47 for January-February (up 12%).
Beef exports to Japan rebounded significantly in February, up 11% from a year ago in volume (15,933 mt) and 23% in value ($112.6 million). For the two-month period, exports to Japan were still down 1% in volume (29,743 mt) from a year ago but increased 11% in value ($204.1 million).
The trend was similar for South Korea, as February exports were up 16% in volume (10,899 mt) and 24% in value ($80.4 million). January-February exports were still 7% lower in volume (17,972 mt) but increased 3% in value ($137.9 million).
Mexico posted another strong month, driven by large beef variety meat exports. February exports to Mexico were 18,555 mt (up 7%) valued at $93.6 million (up 5%). Two-month totals were up 3% in volume (38,768 mt) and 9% in value ($198.7 million).
Pork exports to Korea largest since 2011
February pork exports accounted for 25% of total production and 20% for muscle cuts only – lower than a year ago, but a significant improvement over January. Export value per head slaughtered was $51.86 in February (down 11% from a year ago) and $49.16 for January-February (down 13%).
February export volume to Korea totaled 22,615 mt – up 79% from a year ago and the largest monthly total in nearly four years – while export value nearly doubled to $72.1 million. For January-February, exports to Korea increased 58% in volume (37,877 mt) and 77% in value ($123.5 million). Taiwan was the only other bright spot in Asia for U.S. pork, as February exports increased 149% in volume (1,763 mt) and 131% in value ($3.7 million) from a year ago. Through February, exports to Taiwan were up 86% in volume (2,770 mt) and 59% in value ($5.6 million) when compared to last year’s low levels.
This growth has been offset, however, by lower exports to Japan and China/Hong Kong. February pork exports to Japan declined 6% in volume (33,582 mt) and 11% in value ($124.2 million) from a year ago. For January-February, exports fell 9% in volume (68,150 mt) and 16% in value ($254.1 million). For China/Hong Kong, February exports were down 41% from a year ago in both volume (21,903 mt) and value ($49.7 million). January-February exports fell 45% to 39,584 mt valued at $92.4 million.
“The West Coast port situation was particularly damaging for our chilled pork exports to Japan, because it compromised our ability to meet customers’ shelf-life requirements,” Seng explained. “The ability to ship chilled product to Japan has always given U.S. pork a distinct quality advantage over frozen pork from Europe. Now that we have chilled pork moving again, it is very important that we recapture this customer base. But this will not be easy, as pork from the EU continues to enter Japan at lower-than-usual prices. This is exacerbated by the strength of the U.S. dollar versus both the yen and euro.”
February pork exports to Mexico were up 8% in volume (58,055 mt) but slipped 4% in value ($104.9 million). For January-February, exports to Mexico totaled 117,361 mt (up 3%) valued at $217.7 million (down 2%). Pork exports to most Western Hemisphere markets trended higher year-over-year in February, including Canada, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Guatemala, though exports were lower to Colombia and Chile.
Lamb exports still struggling
Similar to beef and pork, U.S. lamb exports were lower year-over-year in February but improved from the previous month. February exports were down 3% in volume (824 mt) and 13% in value ($1.7 million). For the two-month period, exports declined 19% in volume (1,543 mt) and 26% in value ($3.4 million).