U.S. beef exports increase, pork flat

A sales person at the Jusco Supermarket in Tokyo arranges U.S. beef products. Japan remains the top market for U.S. beef exports.

U.S. beef exports in 2018 shattered previous highs in both value and volume, adding more than $1 billion year-over-year to $8.33 billion and growing by more than 100,000 metric tons to 1.35 million metric tons.

Beef exports increased 7% in volume and 15% in value, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Pork exports, however, faced significant retaliatory tariffs from Mexico and China. But U.S. pork exports managed to toe the line, down just 0.5% in volume to 2.44 million metric tons and down 1% in value to $6.49 billion.

Beef exports were fueled by tremendous demand in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the ASEAN region and strong demand elsewhere in the world, according to USMEF.

But no market exemplified the demand momentum more than South Korea, which increased its U.S. beef imports 30% in volume to 239,676 metric tons and 43% in value to $1.75 billion, USMEF reported. The country accounted for half of the $1 billion surge in total U.S. beef exports in 2018.

“There may have been no greater ag trade success story in 2018 than U.S. beef exports to Korea,” Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, said in the federation’s latest export report.

South Korea now consumes more U.S. beef per capita than any other international destination.

Japan remains the top market for U.S. beef exports, however, and increased those exports 7% in volume to 330,217 metric tons and 10% in value to $2.08 billion in 2018.

The U.S. is Japan’s largest beef supplier by value and a close second to Australia in volume, but USMEF has concerns in that regard.

The U.S. position is tenuous due to a widening tariff gap between U.S. beef and its main competitors, all of which secured tariff-rate relief under the Comprehensive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — of which the U.S. is not a part.

The same holds true for U.S. pork exports to Japan, the leading value market for U.S. pork. In addition, Japan’s agreement with the EU leaves the U.S. as the only major pork supplier that has not gained tariff relief from Japan, USMEF reported.

There are also headwinds in pork trade due to retaliatory tariffs.

Pork exports through May 2018 to Mexico, the leading volume market for U.S. pork exports, appeared to be headed for a seventh consecutive record — topping 2017 by 6 percent. But the retaliatory duties that were imposed in June and increased in July took a toll.

Export volume to Mexico dropped 3% in 2018 and export value declined 13% to the lowest value since 2015.

With strong industry support, USMEF has intensified its efforts to retain as much of the Mexican business as possible, Halstrom said.

“While these efforts have been successful, the decline in export value clearly shows the negative impact these retaliatory duties have imposed on the U.S. pork supply chain,” he said.

Retaliatory tariffs also reduced exports to China and Hong Kong, which fell 29% in volume and 21% in value.

On the positive side, U.S. pork exports to South Korea broke records, increasing 40% in volume and 41% in value.

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