Falling trade barriers allow producers access to hungry markets

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

American beef and pork exports are on the rise, buoyed by an improving economy and rebounding trade, according to government statistics.

The value of U.S. meat exports continued an upward trend in May, collectively growing 25 percent above their 2009 levels and 8 percent since April, according to USDA figures compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

For producers, the export value per animal processed in May was $53.10 for pork, nearly 30 percent higher than the $40.90 recorded in May 2009, according to the USMEF.

The export value per slaughtered steer and heifer was $160.30, a 31 percent jump from the $122 per animal generated at this time last year, the organization reported on July 14.

The export volume for U.S. lamb is 25 percent of last year, with value up 1 percent, according to the report.

"I think it's a combination" of reasons for the increases, said Jim Herlihy, a USMEF spokesman. "It's difficult to assign a number and say that so much is due to the improving economy and so much is because of renewed confidence (in American meat).

"When you look at markets like South Korea ... I think what we're seeing is certainly a return of confidence," he said.

The U.S. enjoyed about 70 percent of the beef market in South Korea before an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2003, Herlihy said. After what Herlihy calls a "dormant period" since the outbreak, South Korea has re-emerged as the No. 3 market by volume for U.S. beef, increasing 66 percent over January through May of last year.

Pork exports have been helped by the resumption of trade with China and Russia, with export levels for May nearing what they were in May 2009, according to the USMEF report.

"We're seeing continued strong performance in Mexico, which last year set a record far and away ... for importing U.S. pork," Herlihy said. "We're seeing Mexico start to slow down just a little bit, but we're seeing that balanced by rebounding in Japan."

The export gains are perhaps a consolation to producers concerned over whether domestic price increases for meat will diminish consumer demand.

The consumer price index for beef, poultry, fish and eggs rose 1 percent in June, the sixth straight monthly increase, while the dairy and related products increase rose slightly, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release. Overall, the index declined 0.1 percent last month, the bureau reported on July 16.

At $769.5 million overall, U.S. red meat exports in May reached their highest monthly value since October 2008, the USMEF reported.

Online

U.S. Meat Export Federation: www.usmef.org

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