Exports of U.S. pork and beef gained momentum in March after starting the year slowly, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Although pork exports were down from the large totals recorded in March 2014, export volume was the largest in 11 months at 191,041 metric tons (mt). This was 9% lower than a year ago, but a 10 % increase from February. Export value of $495.3 million was down 18% year-over-year, but up 5% from February.
March beef exports totaled 86,774 mt, down 7% from a year ago but a 5% increase over February. Export value was $527.3 million, up 2% year-over-year but down slightly from February.
The March results reflect some degree of relief from the West Coast port congestion that plagued red meat exports in January and February. Port traffic began to improve after a tentative labor contract was reached in late February, though congestion lingered for several weeks at some major ports.
“Port congestion remained an issue well into March – and even into April in the Southern California ports – but the announcement of the new labor contract certainly improved the business climate,” said USMEF president and chief executive officer Philip Seng. “After months of frustration, the U.S. meat industry was finally able to reassure Asian buyers that the worst of the crisis was behind us and that they could once again count on the U.S. to fulfill its role as a reliable supplier. This was especially important for customers purchasing chilled pork and beef, which require very prompt delivery due to product shelf life.”
In addition to shipping concerns, U.S. exporters have found their competitive position in some key markets damaged by large volumes of lower-priced products from other supplying countries. In many cases, diminished purchasing power due to the strength of the U.S. dollar has made the price disadvantage even more severe. Market access barriers also remain a concern in some markets, most importantly China and Russia.
“Closure of the Russian market to European pork continues to impact all major pork suppliers, as the EU has focused very aggressively on alternative markets in Asia,” Seng said. “In the beef complex, the projected slowdown in Australia’s production may still be coming, but certainly did not materialize in the first quarter.
“These are unusual conditions that are made more difficult by the strong U.S. dollar, but now isn’t the time to dwell on the stiff headwinds we are facing. We must aggressively defend the customer base the U.S. industry has worked so hard to build over the years by reaffirming the value and quality delivered by U.S. red meat.”