Global demand ‘strong’ for U.S. beef and pork during COVID-19 pandemic

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 534 views 

The U.S. exported more than $600 million worth of beef in April, down 11% in value from the same-month in 2019, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Beef exports in April fell 6% from a year ago to 96,613 metric tons, with per head of fed slaughter rising to a record $363.35, up 19% from April 2019, the USMEF reports.

U.S. pork exports rose 22% to $264,048 metric tons in April, with export value up 28% at $682.8 million from April 2019, the group said. Pork export value per head slaughtered jumped to a record $72.55 in April, up 43% from a year ago, according to USMEF’s calculations.

“Considering all the challenges the U.S. red meat industry faced in April, export results were encouraging,” said USMEF CEO Dan Halstrom. “Exporters lost several days of slaughter and processing due to COVID-19, and shipments to Mexico and some other Latin American markets declined due to slumping currencies and the imposition of stay-at-home orders. But despite these significant headwinds, global demand for U.S. beef and pork remained strong.”

While May export results will likely reflect similar obstacles, Halstrom said, red meat production continues to recover, setting the stage for a strong second half of 2020.

“International customers are relieved to see U.S. production rebounding, solidifying our position as a reliable supplier,” he said. “This helps address a major concern for buyers, as COVID-19 has disrupted meat production in many countries – not just the United States. Demand remains robust for U.S. red meat, especially at retail, but USMEF is actively working with our foodservice customers across the globe to help ensure a strong recovery for the restaurant, catering and hospitality sectors. Many are adjusting to an entirely new business climate, and the U.S. industry assisting them in this process can help ensure that U.S. pork and beef will be featured on their menus.”

Despite the 6% dip in April, U.S. beef exports to Japan continue to see increased demand thanks in part to reduced tariffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement. Also, beef sales to China for the first four months of this year rose 5% from a year ago. Beef sales to China this year were valued at $2.66 billion, according to USMEF.

Although beef exports to South Korea cooled in April, 2020 shipments remained ahead of last year’s record pace. April exports totaled 19,411 metric tons, down 14% from a year ago with a value of $133.9 million. But through April, exports to Korea were still up 6% from a year ago at 83,345 metric tons, valued at $598.7 million. Korea eased social distancing and stay-at-home requirements in May, leading to a significant increase in domestic travel and foodservice demand through its early May holidays.

Exports to Mexico dipped sharply in April due to COVID-19 related restrictions on businesses and consumers and the slumping Mexican peso. Through April, exports to Mexico were 9% below last year’s pace at 70,048 metric tons, valued at $331.4 million. But Mexico remained the largest volume destination for beef variety meat exports, with shipments up 11% from a year ago at 32,872 metric tons, valued at $81.7 million.

After a down year in 2019, demand for U.S. beef has rebounded in Canada. April exports were up 38% from a year ago at 10,850 metric tons, with value up 35% to $74.7 million. Through April, exports to Canada increased 25% in volume. Canada faced production challenges similar to the U.S., with sharply reduced slaughter volumes in April and May.

April exports increased significantly to Japan, Vietnam and Chile. April volume reached 264,048 metric tons, up 22% from a year ago but the lowest since November 2019. Export value was $682.8 million, up 28% year-over-year but the lowest since October 2019.

Through the first four months of 2020, pork exports remain on a record pace at 1.1 million metric tons, up 35% from a year ago, with a value of $2.91 billion.

With production down from record levels achieved in March, pork export value per head slaughtered jumped to a record $72.55 in April, up 43% from a year ago. The January-April per-head average was $66.36, up 40%. April exports accounted for 36.2% of total pork production.

Similar to beef, U.S. pork exports to Japan are benefiting from a level competitive playing field in 2020, no longer saddled with a tariff disadvantage compared to Canadian and European pork. April exports to Japan totaled 39,232 metric tons up 28% from a year ago, valued at $164.2 million.

Halstrom said China/Hong Kong continues to be the pacesetter for U.S. pork export growth. April pork exports to China/Hong Kong set another new record at 116,928 metric tons, more than triple the year-ago volume and surpassing the previous high reached in December 2019. April export value was $268.5 million (up 284%). Through April, exports to China/Hong Kong continued on a record pace at 413,453 metric tons, up 223% from a year ago, while value increased 310% to $993 million.

Pork exports to Mexico slowed in April but January-April shipments remained 2% ahead of last year’s pace at 238,108 metric tons, with value climbing 16% to $413.6 million. Halstrom said the sharp increase in value underscores the importance of duty-free access to Mexico, as most exports in early 2019 were subject to a 20% retaliatory duty, which Mexico removed in late May of last year. He said weekly export data indicate Mexico’s buying began to rebound in late May, despite continued exchange rate challenges and other economic headwinds.

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