U.S. meat exports

American farmers have not just endured retaliatory tariffs from China and other nations. They’ve had to watch as competitors used free trade agreements to make inroads into Japan, a historically protectionist market.

After losing ground during the first four months of the year, U.S. exports of beef and pork found better footing in May. Shipments held steady in volume and were up 1% in value, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Exports of beef in May totaled 117,541 metric tons at a value of $727.6 million. Pork exports totaled 217,999 metric tons at a value of $567.8 million.

South Korea and Taiwan led a strong month for beef exports, and shipments to Japan rebounded, USMEC reported.

Beef exports to South Korea remained on a record pace in May, increasing 11% in volume to 23,004 metric tons and 13% in value to $165 million year over year. From January through May, South Korea’s imports of U.S. beef were up 11% in volume and 15% in value.

Retail and foodservice growth is driving the U.S. share of South Korea’s chilled beef imports, which now stands at 61%, USMEF reported.

Beef exports to Taiwan strengthened for the second consecutive month in May, up 27% in volume to 5,873 metric tons and 28% in value to $52.6 million. Through May, exports to Taiwan were 11% higher in volume and 4% higher in value.

Beef shipments to Japan, the top export market for U.S. beef, were slightly behind year-earlier levels in May at 29,749 metric tons and down 3% in value to $190.8 million. But exports rebounded from April, when sales of U.S. beef were down 6% in both volume and value.

“The explosive growth U.S. beef has achieved in Korea and Taiwan is a testament to the quality of the product and the outstanding customer base the U.S. industry has established over the years,” Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, said in a press release accompanying the latest data.

“That same dynamic is present in Japan, on an even larger scale. But for Japan to remain in the strong growth column, it is essential that we have market access comparable to our key competitors,” he said.

Major competitors of U.S. beef and pork in Japan gained a tariff advantage this year through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the EU.

U.S. pork exports to Japan, the leading value market for U.S. pork, increased 5% in volume and 3% in value in May but were down 5% in volume and 7% in value for the first five months of the year.

U.S. pork exports to China saw an uptick in May with shipments to China/Hong Kong increasing 33% in volume and 5% in value. But retaliatory tariffs have taken a toll, with exports in the first five months down 7% in volume and 25% in value.

Mexico’s retaliatory duty on U.S. pork was lifted on May 20 but too late to have much impact on May exports. The country’s imports of U.S. pork fell 26% in volume and 15% and were down 19% in volume and 27% in value January through May.

“When exports to Mexico get back on track and trade talks with Japan and China show progress, this will be a very welcome lift for the U.S. pork industry,” Halstrom said.

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