For the first quarter of 2019, U.S. beef exports were slightly below last year’s record pace while pork exports continued to be slowed by trade barriers, according to March data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). U.S. lamb exports were a first quarter bright spot, trending significantly higher than a year ago.
March beef exports totaled 107,655 metric tons (mt), down 4% year-over-year, while value fell 2% to $678 million. For the first quarter, exports were down 3% at 307,306 mt valued at $1.9 billion (down 0.8%).
March beef exports were very strong on a per-head basis, with export value per head of fed slaughter averaging $335.81 – up 1% from a year ago and the highest since December. The first quarter average was $309.32/head, down 2% from a year ago. March exports accounted for 13.6% of total U.S. beef production and 11% for muscle cuts only, which was fairly steady with last March. For the first quarter these ratios were 12.9% and 10.2%, down from 13.2% and 10.7%, respectively, a year ago.
Beef exports to Korea still red-hot; Japan cools slightly in March
South Korea continues to be the growth leader for U.S. beef exports, with first quarter volume climbing 8% year-over-year to 56,173 mt, while value ($414.2 million) was 13% above last year’s record-shattering pace. U.S. beef has achieved remarkable success in Korea’s traditional retail and restaurant sectors but is also rapidly gaining popularity in outlets such as convenience stores and e-commerce platforms. Recent export growth is not only in the ever-popular short rib category, but also in short plate, briskets, clods and rounds, as end-users recognize the versatility and affordability of high-quality U.S. beef.
Beef exports to Japan were moderately lower than a year ago in March, but still finished the first quarter 2% above last year’s pace in volume (74,147 mt) and 5% higher in value ($480.4 million). This was fueled by growth in variety meat exports, with the U.S. shipping more tongues and skirt meat to Japan. U.S. beef faces a widening tariff disadvantage in Japan compared to imports from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico, and the latest tariff reduction for these countries didn’t take effect until April 1.
“U.S. beef cuts are still subject to a 38.5% tariff in Japan while our competitors’ rate is nearly one-third lower at 26.6%,” explained Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “This really underscores the urgency of the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, which must progress quickly if we are going to continue to have success in the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork.”
Japan’s tariffs on beef variety meat are lower, but U.S. shipments are subject to a duty of 12.8% while competitors pay less than half that rate.
Other first quarter highlights for U.S. beef include:
- Beef muscle cut exports to Mexico continued to shine, with first quarter volume up 14% from a year ago to 35,481 mt and value climbing 16% to $220.7 million. While variety meat exports trended lower year-over-year, combined beef/beef variety volume still increased 1% to 57,591 mt while value jumped 12% to $280.2 million.
- Exports to Taiwan were 3% above last year’s record pace at 13,487 mt, though value slipped 7% to $117.8 million. U.S. beef dominates Taiwan’s chilled beef market with nearly 75% market share – the highest of any Asian destination.
- CAFTA-DR markets continue to be an excellent source of growth for U.S. beef exports, with first quarter volume to Central America up 15% from a year ago to 3,628 mt and value up 19% to $21.2 million. Exports to the Dominican Republic soared 71% to 2,345 mt valued at $18.9 million (up 65%).
- Lower exports to Hong Kong and Canada offset some of the first quarter growth in other markets. Exports to Hong Kong trailed last year’s pace by 36% in volume (21,304 mt) and 30% in value ($177.1 million). Exports to Canada were down 14% in both volume (23,199 mt) and value ($143.8 million).
- U.S. exports to China were up 4% from a year ago to 1,723 mt, but this came at lower prices as export value fell 17% to $13.2 million. There is tremendous potential in the Chinese market for U.S. beef, but due to China’s restrictive import requirements and retaliatory duties pushing the tariff rate to 37%, U.S. prices are significantly higher than the competition. By comparison, most beef suppliers are subject to a 12% tariff in China while beef from New Zealand is duty-free and Australian beef pays only a 6% rate. Australia’s grain-fed beef exports to China in the first quarter totaled 14,347 mt, up 77% year-over-year.
Demand for U.S. lamb still climbing
Fueled by strong variety meat demand in Mexico and strong muscle cut growth in the Caribbean, the Middle East and Central America, U.S. lamb exports posted a solid first quarter. Exports increased 68% in volume to 4,173 mt while value was up 29% to $6.9 million. For muscle cuts only, exports were lower year-over-year in March, but first quarter exports still increased 25% in volume (659 mt) and 19% in value (just over $4 million).
Complete January-March export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics Web page.