USMEF: January meat exports show mixed results

The pace of U.S. beef and pork exports cooled somewhat in January, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Muscle cut exports held up fairly well in January, but total exports were held down by a very sluggish market for variety meat.

Beef plus beef variety meat exports were 9 percent higher in volume and 6 percent higher in value than in January 2009. Beef muscle cuts fared even better, rising 16 percent in volume and 15 percent in value. However, these totals represented a decline from December 2009 and were also lower than the 2009 monthly average. Beef variety meat exports were down only 4 percent in volume but plummeted 26 percent in value compared to January 2009.
Pork plus pork variety meat exports were 8 percent lower in both volume and value than in January 2009, but variety meat also weighed heavily on these results. Muscle cuts fell only 4 percent in volume and 5 percent in value, while variety meat exports declined 18 percent in both categories.
Pork exports strong in most markets, but dropped sharply in Japan
January pork plus pork variety meat exports totaled 144,180 metric tons (317.9 million pounds) valued at just over $333 million. Exports were 8 percent lower in both volume and value than in January 2009, but were impacted heavily by a nearly 20 percent decline in variety meat exports. For muscle cuts only, exports were down 4 percent in volume and 5 percent in value. Exports accounted for 22 percent of total pork/pork variety meat production (consistent with 2009), while export value per head slaughtered amounted to $37.37 - up about $.80 per head over a year ago.
Not surprisingly, exports to China and Russia were well below last year's levels, as China remains closed from the H1N1-related ban imposed in mid-2009 and exports to Russia were heavily impacted by a lack of eligible U.S. plants. Efforts continue to restore access to both these markets, with notable progress being made with Russia. Agreement has been reached on a new export certificate, several U.S. plants have regained eligibility to export to Russia, and more are expected to receive approval in the near future.
The most significant jolt to January's results was the nearly one-third decline in exports to Japan, which is by far the largest value market for U.S. pork. Exports to Japan totaled 27,936 metric tons (61.6 million pounds) valued at $108 million. While these are still strong results, exports were down 34 percent in volume and 27 percent in value from the torrid pace of January 2009.
“The United States is still the market leader in Japan, and this market is still performing at a very high level,” Seng said. “But Japan had a notable increase in its domestic pork production in 2009, which created a backlog in its pork inventories and lowered domestic prices significantly. We are definitely feeling some impact from that, though we don't expect that production trend to continue this year.
“U.S. pork is extremely well-positioned in Japan, with our chilled products gaining wide acceptance in both the retail and foodservice sectors,” he continued. “U.S. back ribs are also gaining traction in Japan, and our processed items and sausages are also performing very well. Despite taking a step back in January, our prospects remain bright in Japan.”
Mexico solidified its position as the largest volume market for U.S. pork/pork variety meat, setting a new monthly record of 54,458 metric tons (120.1 million pounds) valued at $93.5 million. This was an increase of 12 percent in volume and 27 percent in value over January 2009, and surpassed the previous record (from December 2009) by 5 percent in volume and 4 percent in value.
“The gains U.S. pork has achieved in Mexico are quite remarkable,” Seng said. “USMEF worked very hard to rebuild pork demand and consumer confidence during last year's H1N1 crisis, and those efforts have really taken hold. Demand has not only recovered, but has actually risen to new heights.”    
Other markets performing extremely well compared to January 2009 included:
  • Hong Kong – 17,615 metric tons (38.8 million pounds) valued at $23 million, an increase of 36 percent in volume and 19 percent in value.
  • Canada – 13,135 metric tons (29 million pounds) valued at $41.9 million, an increase of 2 percent in volume and 11 percent in value.
  • Central/South America – 4,542 metric tons (10 million pounds) valued at $10.5 million, an increase of 39 percent in volume and 47 percent in value.
  • Philippines – 4,454 metric tons (9.8 million pounds) valued at $8.4 million, an increase of 32 percent in volume and 50 percent in value.
  • Taiwan – 4,252 metric tons (9.4 million pounds) valued at $7.5 million, an increase of 54 percent in volume and 87 percent in value.
  • Dominican Republic – 1,682 metric tons (3.7 million pounds) valued at $3.1 million, an increase of 76 percent in volume and 59 percent in value.
Besides Japan, Russia and China, markets showing a decline from year-ago levels included South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Like Japan, Korea's domestic pork inventories have swelled, creating a much less favorable price environment for imported product.
While Seng is pleased to be making progress with Russia and anxious to restore access soon to mainland China, he explained that these markets are not likely to immediately rebound to the record levels of 2008. That's why it is critically important to develop other key markets in Asia and to build on the positive momentum pork exports have achieved in Mexico and other Latin American nations.
“There is no question that Russia and China are still key targets for U.S. pork, and getting back into these markets is critically important,” he said. “But it's also important to understand that these countries are determined to bolster their own production and to reduce their reliance on imported products. We must be prepared for continued challenges in these markets, and work diligently to grow our pork exports across the entire globe.”
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