U.S. exports in the first quarter of 2018 started off the year at a rapid pace. Lamb led the charge and was up 68% from the first quarter of 2017, driven by increased buying from Mexico. Turkey exports had the second strongest first quarter ever, rising 15% year-over-year. Mexico also was the major turkey buyer, increasing purchases by 21% or 18 million pounds compared to 2017’s. U.S. beef exports were up 12% compared to a year ago, followed by pork up 6%. Broiler exported tonnage was even with last year’s.
For the first quarter, on a volume basis, pork and beef had the largest gains year-over-year. Beef exports surged in the first three months of the year sending an additional 79 million pounds overseas than last year. Interest from Asian markets continued to build. Taiwan posted the largest percentage gain, surging 37% followed by Hong Kong which had 22 million pound jump-up. U.S. tonnage sold to South Korea rose by 29%, which is one of the U.S.’s largest beef markets, increasing 30 million pounds in the first quarter over 2017’s. Vietnam continued to increase purchases and was up 17%, and other countries outside the top 7 bought 30% more beef.
The majority of the increase in U.S. pork exports occurred to South Korea, which purchased an additional 54 million pounds in 2018’s first quarter, more than half the rise in total volume. Countries outside of the top importers of U.S. pork showed significantly higher interest in U.S. products gaining 18%, up 35 million pounds from a year earlier. The Caribbean gained 18% as well but remained a relatively small market (up 5 million pounds year-over-year). Mainland China increased 11%. Hong Kong and Mexico bought less U.S. pork, to the tune of 7 million and 9 million pounds, respectively.
Broiler exports appear disappointing compared to the other animal protein sectors. South Korea was one of the bright spots increasing 83% over 2017. In the last couple of years, U.S. broiler exports to South Korea have declined as the S. Korean government supported the domestic industry that was hit with heavy losses during AI outbreaks. U.S. shipments during 2018’s first quarter were 3rd highest quarter since the end of 2014. Hong Kong and Canada saw the largest percentage declines year over year, down 23% and 11%, respectively.