April beef and pork exports below 2018 levels; lamb still trending higher

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.

Beef exports totaled 105,241 metric tons in April, down 5 percent year-over-year, though export value was down only slightly at $674.2 million. For January through April, exports were 4 percent below last year’s record pace in volume (412,547 metric tons) and 1 percent lower in value ($2.58 billion).

On a per-head basis, beef export value per head of fed slaughter averaged $305.61 (down 7 percent from April 2018). The January-April average was $308.34 per head, down 3 percent from a year ago. April exports accounted for 12.5 percent of total U.S. beef production and 10.2 percent for muscle cuts only, down from 14.1 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively, a year ago. For January through April, these ratios were 12.7 percent and 10.2 percent (down from 13.4 percent and 10.8 percent).

Pork exports totaled 216,757 metric tons in April, down 6 percent from a year ago, valued at $535.2 million (down 8 percent). January-April exports were also 6 percent below last year’s pace in volume (817,025 metric tons) and were down 12 percent in value to just over $2 billion.

Pork export value averaged $50.58 per head slaughtered in April, down 13 percent from a year ago but the highest in 10 months. For January through April, export value averaged $47.25 per head, down 15 percent from the same period last year. April exports accounted for 26.6 percent of total U.S. pork production and 23.3 percent for muscle cuts only – down from 29.9 percent and 25.8 percent, respectively, in April 2018. January-April exports accounted for 24.9 percent of total pork production (down from 27.4 percent) and 21.8 percent for muscle cuts (down from 23.7 percent).

Beef demand strong in Korea and Taiwan; Japan edges lower

South Korea remains the export growth leader for U.S. beef, with April volume up 18 percent to 22,584 metric tons. April value surged 22 percent to $164.3 million, surpassing Japan as the month’s leading value market. January-April exports to Korea were 11 percent ahead of last year’s record pace in volume (78,757 metric tons) and climbed 15 percent higher in value ($578.5 million). U.S. share of Korea’s total beef imports climbed to 47.5 percent, up a full percentage point from last year. U.S. share of Korea’s chilled beef imports reached 60 percent.

Taiwan is also coming off a record year for U.S. beef exports and posted a strong April at 5,118 metric tons (up 15 percent from a year ago) valued at $47.9 million (up 14 percent). Through April, exports to Taiwan totaled 18,605 metric tons (up 6 percent) valued at $165.6 million (down 2 percent).

In Japan, where all of U.S. beef’s major competitors have gained tariff relief in 2019, April exports were down 6 percent from a year ago in both volume (24,149 metric tons) and value ($156.8 million). Export volume through April was steady with last year’s pace at 98,296 metric tons while value increased 2 percent to $637.2 million. U.S. market share in Japan is still more than 41 percent, but this is down from nearly 45 percent in the first four months of 2017. For chilled beef, U.S. share has slipped two percentage points to 47.4 percent. In April, Japan’s imports from Mexico more than tripled year-over-year and imports also increased from Canada (up 52 percent), New Zealand (up 41 percent) and Australia (up 9 percent) 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 percent duty while the rate for U.S. beef remains at 38.5 percent. 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.”

Latin America, Oceania, Taiwan bolster pork exports

On May 20, the 20 percent retaliatory duty on most U.S. pork entering Mexico was removed, as the U.S., Mexico and Canada reached an agreement on steel and aluminum tariffs. This was obviously too late to boost April pork exports to Mexico, which sank 30 percent from a year ago in volume (54,971 metric tons) and 29 percent in value to $94.5 million. For January through April, exports to Mexico were down 18 percent in volume (232,391 metric tons) and 29 percent in value ($356.5 million).

“Lifting of Mexico’s retaliatory duties was the most welcome news the U.S. pork industry has received in a long time,” Halstrom said. “Now let’s hope the duty-free access U.S. pork has enjoyed in Mexico since late May isn’t short-lived.”

President Trump has proposed a 5 percent tariff on all goods imported from Mexico unless more steps are taken to curb illegal migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The tariff would take effect June 10 and increase to 25 percent by Oct. 1, but negotiations are ongoing and Mexico has not yet announced any retaliatory measures.

U.S. pork also faces a significant disadvantage in China, where retaliatory duties remain in effect and competitors are positioning to fill China’s looming African swine fever-driven pork shortfall. January-April exports to China/Hong Kong were 16 percent below last year’s pace in volume (128,200 metric tons) and down 32 percent in value ($242 million).

Leading value market Japan has not imposed any new tariffs on U.S. pork but its main competitors (European, Canadian and Mexican pork) have gained tariff relief in 2019. January-April exports of U.S. pork to Japan were down 7 percent from a year ago in volume (123,166 metric tons) and fell 9 percent in value ($493.3 million), as U.S. share of Japan’s total imports fell from 36 percent last year to 32 percent. The sharpest decline was in Japan’s imports of U.S. ground seasoned pork, which were down nearly $40 million.

Momentum continues to grow for U.S. lamb

Strong variety meat demand in Mexico and muscle cut growth in the Caribbean, the Middle East and Panama have fueled an upward trend in U.S. lamb exports. April exports totaled 1,227 metric tons, up 26 percent from a year ago, while value was up 15 percent to $2.2 million. For January-April, exports were up 56 percent year-over-year in volume (5,400 metric tons) and up 26 percent in value ($9.1 million). Muscle cut exports were up 17 percent in volume to 828 metric tons and climbed 19 percent in value to $5.4 million.

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Complete January-April export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics web page at www.usmef.org/news-statistics/statistics.

Monthly charts for U.S. pork and beef exports are also available.