Robust global economy hungry for beef, other meat

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

Beef muscle cuts led a surge in American meat exports in the first quarter of this year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

The beef cuts saw a 22 percent increase in volume to 156,947 metric tons for the quarter, bringing a 34 percent increase in value to $678 million, according to a USMEF news release.

Other beef varieties also posted gains, increasing 11 percent in volume to 225,122 metric tons and 14 percent in value to $788.5 million.

Pork muscle cuts exceeded their 2009 pace by 1 percent in volume, or 356,297 metric tons, and 2 percent in value, or $941.1 million, according to the organization's statistics. In March, pork exports accounted for 22.5 percent and beef 10.6 percent of overall production.

The improvements come despite challenges in the two commodities' respective markets, with Mexico's economy stifling beef exports there and with pork exports to Japan having slowed.

The rebounding global economy is fueling the increase in exports, said Jim Herlihy, the USMEF's vice president of communication services.

"Certainly we're seeing continuing economic recovery, and the improved conditions are giving more purchasing power in our key markets," he said. "I think that's a key factor."

Herlihy said he is most pleasantly surprised by activity in Russia, which is now importing U.S. beef muscle cuts at a pace not seen since mid-2008. Russia's combined beef/beef variety meat totals more than doubled over last year to 12,855 metric tons, bringing a four-fold increase in value to $28.9 million.

Access to Russia has improved as progress has been made in reinstating U.S. plants whose meat was banned from Russia in late 2009 and early this year, the USMEF noted.

"I think Russia jumps out a little bit," Herlihy said. "The bounce-back there has been pretty dramatic. It was a strong market in 2008. It suffered in 2009 as most markets did, but I think perhaps even more so it seems to be bouncing back very strong this year."

A banner quarter for beef exports has been soured only by the commodity's performance in Mexico, where variety meat exports were down 44 percent in volume and more than 60 percent in value from last year.

Mexico has been buying U.S. pork, with variety meat exports there topping 100,000 metric tons valued at nearly $195 million, both significant increases over 2009.

"Mexico has been and continues to be the No. 1 export market for U.S. beef, but it's been down and we're looking forward to better conditions there," Herlihy said.

The recent addition of bone-in beef cuts helped bolster exports to Taiwan, while beef varieties reported significant gains in Asia, the Middle East and the Dominican Republic, which saw a 130 increase in volume, the USMEF reported.

While pork exports to Japan and Korea have declined because of a spike in domestic pork production, exports to Canada, Taiwan, the European Union and Central and South America surged, the organization noted.

U.S. lamb exports increased by more than 60 percent in volume in the first quarter, but their value declined by 7 percent, according to the USMEF.

Online

Complete first-quarter USMEF statistics: http://www.usmef.org:8000/AboutUs/files/March%202010.pdf

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