April exports of U.S. beef and pork were lower than a year ago while U.S. lamb exports continued their upward trend, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Beef exports totaled 105,241 metric tons (mt) in April, down 5% year-over-year, though export value was down only slightly at $674.2 million. For January through April, exports were 4% below last year’s record pace in volume (412,547 mt) and 1% lower in value ($2.58 billion).
On a per-head basis, beef export value per head of fed slaughter averaged $305.61 (down 7% from April 2018). The January-April average was $308.34 per head, down 3% from a year ago. April exports accounted for 12.5% of total U.S. beef production and 10.2% for muscle cuts only, down from 14.1% and 11.3%, respectively, a year ago. For January through April, these ratios were 12.7% and 10.2% (down from 13.4% and 10.8%).
South Korea remains the export growth leader for U.S. beef, with April volume up 18% to 22,584 mt. April value surged 22% to $164.3 million, surpassing Japan as the month’s leading value market. January-April exports to Korea were 11% ahead of last year’s record pace in volume (78,757 mt) and climbed 15% higher in value ($578.5 million). U.S. share of Korea’s total beef imports climbed to 47.5%, up a full percentage point from last year. U.S. share of Korea’s chilled beef imports reached 60%.
Taiwan is also coming off a record year for U.S. beef exports and posted a strong April at 5,118 mt (up 15% from a year ago) valued at $47.9 million (up 14%). Through April, exports to Taiwan totaled 18,605 mt (up 6%) valued at $165.6 million (down 2%).
In Japan, where all of U.S. beef’s major competitors have gained tariff relief in 2019, April exports were down 6% from a year ago in both volume (24,149 mt) and value ($156.8 million). Export volume through April was steady with last year’s pace at 98,296 mt while value increased 2% to $637.2 million. U.S. market share in Japan is still more than 41%, but this is down from nearly 45% in the first four months of 2017. For chilled beef, U.S. share has slipped two percentage points to 47.4%. In April, Japan’s imports from Mexico more than tripled year-over-year and imports also increased from Canada (up 52%), New Zealand (up 41%) and Australia (up 9%) as competitors of U.S. beef benefited from lower tariff rates.
“U.S. beef is holding its own in Japan, but the April numbers are telling,” cautioned USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “With the April 1 rate cut, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Mexican beef are now subject to a 26.6% duty while the rate for U.S. beef remains at 38.5%. It is absolutely essential that the U.S. secures an agreement that will level this playing field. U.S. beef’s exceptional growth in Korea is a great example of what’s possible when tariffs are less of an obstacle.”
Other January-April highlights for U.S. beef include:
Beef exports to Mexico continue to post strong results, especially for muscle cuts. Combined beef/beef variety meat exports through April were 2% below last year’s pace at 76,870 mt, but value increased 9% to $372.4 million. For muscle cuts only, exports to Mexico climbed 8% from a year ago in volume (47,379 mt) and 11% in value ($293.3 million).
Strong growth in the Philippines fueled a 20% increase in beef exports to the ASEAN region as volume reached 17,770 mt, valued at $86.9 million (up 6%). Export volume also trended higher to Indonesia and Vietnam.
An exceptional performance in the Dominican Republic is fueling a strong year for U.S. beef in the Caribbean. Exports to the Dominican Republic soared 56% above last year’s pace in volume (3,068 mt) and 50% higher in value ($25 million). The Caribbean was up 16% in volume (9,826 mt) and 18% in value ($65.2 million) with exports also trending higher for Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Exports to Hong Kong slipped 36% from a year ago in volume (27,825 mt) and were 29% lower in value ($236.6 million). Despite a 25% retaliatory duty, U.S. beef exports to China increased 5% to 2,417 mt, but value was down 15% to $18.2 million as most of the tariff cost was borne by U.S. suppliers. China’s beef imports already eclipsed $2 billion through the first four months of this year, up 54% from last year’s record pace, but the U.S. holds less than 1% of China’s booming beef import market.
Exports to Canada were down 15% in volume to 31,070 mt and 14% in value to just under $200 million. Demand has been impacted by larger Canadian beef production in 2019, but elimination of the 10% retaliatory duty on prepared beef products from the U.S. will help exports in this important category rebound.