U.S. red meat exports ended the first quarter on a very high note, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), with March beef and pork exports each posting the highest monthly value on record. Pork exports and shipments of beef muscle cuts also set new volume records in March.
Beef exports totaled 124,808 metric tons (mt) in March, up 8% from a year ago and the second largest of the post-BSE era. Export value broke the $800 million mark for the first time at $801.9 million, up 14% year-over-year. Beef muscle cut exports set new monthly records for both volume (98,986 mt, up 13% from a year ago) and value ($718.3 million, up 17%). For the first quarter, beef exports pulled even with last year’s pace at 333,348 mt, valued at $2.12 billion. For beef muscle cuts, first quarter exports increased 4% to 262,914 mt, valued at $1.9 billion (up 5%).
March pork exports were record-large at 294,724 mt, up 1% from last year’s strong total, and set a new value record at $794.9 million (up 4%). Pork muscle cuts also set new monthly records for both volume (247,660 mt, up 2% from a year ago) and value $689.2 million (up 4%). For the first quarter, pork exports were 7% below last year’s pace in both volume (782,620 mt) and value ($2.07 billion). Pork muscle cuts followed a similar trend at 659,420 mt (down 7%), valued at $1.79 billion (down 8%).
“It’s very gratifying to see such an outstanding breakout month for U.S. beef and pork exports,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Exports were off to a respectable start in 2021, considering the logistical and labor challenges the industry is facing and ongoing restrictions on the foodservice sector in many key markets. While these obstacles are not totally behind us, the March results show the situation is improving and the export totals better reflect the strong level of global demand for U.S. red meat.”
While muscle cuts certainly drove March export growth, Halstrom was also encouraged by a rebound in shipments of beef and pork variety meat.
“The tight labor situation at the plant level has been especially hard on variety meat volumes,” Halstrom said. “But March variety meat exports matched last year’s performance for pork and were the largest of 2021 on the beef side. It’s important that the capture rate for variety meat continues to improve, as this is a critical component of the export product mix.”
Beef exports soar to Korea and China, rebound in Latin America
Beef export value equated to $348.66 per head of fed slaughter in March, up 13% from a year ago, pushing the first quarter average to $335.45 per head (up 6%). March exports accounted for 14.7% of total beef production and 12.5% for muscle cuts, up from 13.9% and 11.3%, respectively, last year. The first quarter ratios were 14.1% of total beef production (up slightly from a year ago) and 11.9% for muscle cuts (up from 11.4%).
Beef exports to South Korea were strong again in March at 24,104 mt, up 7% from a year ago, valued at $175.9 million (up 6%). For the first quarter, exports were 8% ahead of last year’s pace in both volume (68,996 mt) and value ($503.9 million), making Korea this year’s leading value destination for U.S. beef. Korea is buying more U.S. chuck roll, short plate, shoulder clod, and loin cuts even as imports from Australia also trend higher, reflecting the country’s strong demand for beef.
March beef exports to China were far above last year’s low totals and reached a new monthly record of 14,552 mt, valued at $109.9 million. This pushed first quarter exports more than 1,500% above last year’s pace in both volume (31,058 mt) and value ($234.1 million), and exports increased about 25% from the strong fourth quarter of 2020. U.S. beef accounted for 3.4% of China’s first quarter imports, up from less than 1% at this time last year, and the U.S. is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China. Additional U.S. plants were approved for export to China in April, raising the prospects for further growth in coming months.
Japan remains the top volume market for U.S. beef, with first quarter exports 9% below last year’s pace at 75,409 mt, valued at $485.2 million (down 7%). March exports were impacted by a higher safeguard tariff rate, which was triggered March 18 and remained in effect for 30 days. The tariff rate for U.S. beef muscle cuts is now 25%, down from the 38.5% rate imposed during the safeguard period and mirroring the rate Japan has applied to imports from other major suppliers since April 1.
Other first-quarter results for U.S. beef exports include:
- Beef exports to Mexico were down slightly from a year ago in March at 17,797 mt, but increased 3% in value to $82 million. For the first quarter, exports to Mexico were 14% below last year’s pace at 51,131 mt valued at $245.1 million (down 17%).
- Led by a record month for Honduras and strong growth in Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, first quarter beef exports to Central America climbed 22% from a year ago to 5,223 mt, valued at $30.4 million (up 25%).
- March beef exports to Taiwan were the largest of 2021 at 4,905 mt, but still declined 14% from a year ago. For the first quarter, exports to Taiwan were 20% below last year’s record pace at 12,543 mt, valued at $118.3 million (down 13%). However, Taiwan’s first quarter imports of U.S. chilled beef were up 8% from a year ago and U.S. chilled beef market share increased from 74% to 78%.
- Sharply higher shipments to Colombia pushed first quarter beef exports to South America to 6,903 mt, up 4% from a year ago, with value up 11% to $34.5 million. First quarter exports to leading market Chile increased 3% to 2,510 mt, with value jumping an impressive 39% to $19 million, with March shipments rebounding to the highest level since 2019.
- March beef exports to the Philippines set a new record at 2,091 mt, up 16% from a year ago. Led by growth in the Philippines and Indonesia, the ASEAN region was a first quarter bright spot for U.S. beef variety meat, with exports up 12% in volume (4,603 mt) and 11% in value ($9.8 million).
Japan, Mexico, Central America and the Philippines fuel record month for pork exports
Pork export value equated to $67.71 per head slaughtered in March, up 6% from a year ago, while the first quarter average was down 4% to $64.66 per head. March exports accounted for 32.2% of total pork production and 29.1% for muscle cuts, up from 31.6% and 28.4%, respectively, last year. In the first quarter, exports accounted for 29.9% of total pork production and 27.1% for muscle cuts, each down about 1.5 percentage points from the very high ratios reached in the first quarter of 2020.
March pork exports to Japan totaled 40,746 mt, up 11% from a year ago, while export value increased 13% to $169.5 million. This pushed first quarter exports slightly ahead of last year’s pace at 104,828 mt (up 1%) valued at $436.2 million (up 2%).
Pork exports to Mexico increased 5% from a year ago in March to 66,174 mt, with value climbing 21% to $130.2 million. While first quarter exports remained 4% below last year’s pace at 187,012 mt, value was down just 1% to $345 million.
After a record performance in 2020, pork exports to Central America gained even more momentum in the first quarter, jumping 47% from a year ago to 35,926 mt, valued at $89.7 million (up 43%). March shipments were record-large to Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and exports were also higher to Panama.
First quarter pork exports to the Philippines nearly tripled from a year ago to 25,377 mt, up 190% year-over-year and 86% above the strong fourth quarter pace. Export value more than tripled in the first quarter to $62.4 million, up 201%. This was achieved before the Philippine government ordered a temporary decrease in tariff rates for imported pork muscle cuts in an effort to bolster supplies and stabilize prices, which took effect April 7. Pork muscle cut exports to the Philippines soared to a record 11,736 mt in March, up nearly 500% from a year ago and more than double the February volume.
Other first quarter results for U.S. pork exports include:
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- China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for U.S. pork in 2021, despite first quarter exports falling 20% from a year ago to 236,498 mt, valued at $532.3 million (down 27%). March export value to the region was $202.5 million, down 14% from a year ago but the highest in 10 months as exports of bone-in ham and shoulder cuts to China set a new monthly record.
- Following a difficult year in 2020, first quarter pork exports to Colombia rebounded to 25,696 mt, up 26% from a year ago, while value increased 22% to $57.6 million. March exports to Colombia were the highest since October 2019 and the sixth largest on record.
- First quarter exports to the Dominican Republic soared 49% from a year ago to 17,472 mt, with value up 51% to $40.6 million as U.S. exports set consecutive records in February and March.
- While slightly below last year, March pork exports to Korea were the largest in 12 months at 17,079 mt, valued at $50.6 million. This pushed first quarter exports to 46,595 mt, down 9% from a year ago, valued at $135.8 million (down 11%). Korea achieved record-large pork production in 2020, reducing its reliance on imported pork, with a challenging foodservice situation also negatively impacting demand. Korea is importing more belly cuts from the U.S. and other suppliers this year, but imports in other categories remain below year-ago levels.