U.S. beef and pork exports in the first quarter of 2019 fell below levels a year earlier on fewer shipments to some large customers. But there were also significant gains in some other key markets.
Beef exports were down 3% in volume and 1% in value, and pork exports were down 6% in volume and 14% in value.
“On the beef side, considering all the noise out there on the trade front and some of these countries that have duties, we’re relatively encouraged by that performance,” Dan Halstrom, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, told reporters in a media call from the federation’s spring conference in Kansas City, Mo.
On the positive side, beef export volumes were up 2% to Japan, 1% to Mexico, 8% to South Korea and 17% to the Caribbean region.
“I think we made some broad-based gains in some key regions,” he said.
But two regions that stand out with a downward spiral are Hong Kong and China and the Middle East, which decreased import volumes of U.S. beef 34% and 11%, respectively.
U.S. beef shipments to China face a 37% tariff compared with 12% or less for competitors, he said.
On the pork side, exports the first quarter also saw significant growth in some markets and challenges in others, he said.
There’s been significant growth in some of the more medium-size markets. Specifically the South American region was up 41% in volume. And some of the medium to small markets including Taiwan, Central America and the ASEAN region are all showing significant growth, he said.
But exports to Mexico, Hong Kong and China saw challenges, all duty related.
Pork shipments to Mexico were down 17% in volume and 29% in value, attributable to the 20% duty levied last summer, he said.
“This has been a real focus for our industry and USMEF in particular. We’re seeing share decline a bit year over year, to the tune of about 4%,” he said.
The U.S. is still the dominant supplier of Mexico’s imported pork, but it has seen share drop to the advantage of competitors such as Canada and Europe, he said.
“So we’re constantly trying to protect our turf, and Mexico and the whole NAFTA region would fall at the top of that list,” he said.
Pork exports to China declined 20% in volume and 34% in value. Duties on U.S. pork there are 62% compared with 12% or less on competitors’ pork.
“It’s hitting us on all fronts, but it’s really hitting us hard on the variety meat side,” he said.
There’s huge demand for pork variety meat in China, but the U.S. is handicapped by those duties, he said.
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to China in terms of an agreement with the U.S. The duty issue, African swine fever and a lot of other things are causing uncertainty, he said.
“But hopefully if we can get a trade deal … consummated with China, that might help clear up some of the uncertainty,” he said.