Pork exports began the year on a stronger basis than beef, and the volumes from March were the largest since May 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture complied this month by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
First quarter exports reached 716,691 metric tons, a 14% increase over last year.
“Pork is going very well,” said Dan Halstrom, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, speaking earlier this year. “The foodservice business has fully bounced back from COVID and (is) booming on both beef and pork.”
Several of key markets contributed to the strong showing, he said.
“Mexico continues to be the shining star and has been through the last year,” Halstrom said.
Exports to Mexico great 9% earlier this year, China was up 30% and the Caribbean and Central American regions, the Philippines and Vietnam were all seeing growth.
Early pork sales in two of the biggest U.S. markets were down slightly, however. Sales to Japan and Korea lagged.
That may be partly because of the strong U.S. dollar, Halstrom said, and uncertainty about the shaky contract negotiations with union workers at the West Coast ports which could slow chilled meat exports.
Beef exports started the year very slowly in January before picking up the following month. While it wasn’t a complete surprise because beef exports were expected to slow this year after a record-setting 2022, Halstrom was grateful to see February turn into a “rebound month.”
“Japan is a little better on beef imports than pork,” he said. “We’re steady there on beef compared to last year.”
Beef exports to Mexico were 15% higher than a year ago, but Korea has taken a step back on U.S. beef imports. That’s also likely reflective of the strong U.S. dollar and logistical concerns at West Coast ports
People are also reading…
Despite a step back in some markets, the overall “mojo” is good, according to Halstrom.
“There’s still good demand in many places,” he said. “While the economic headwinds will likely continue, our forecast for 2023 pork exports is up 5-6%, so we are well on track for that through the first couple of months.”
The beef forecast is down 7% for this year compared to 2022. That’s assuming the expected drop in beef production takes place, which it has during the first quarter of this year. However, Halstrom is optimistic about beef despite the lower export forecast.
March beef exports totaled 120,495 metric tons, down 5% from a year ago. Export value fell 17% to $892.6 million. However, both volume and value were at their highest levels in five months.
Through the first quarter, beef exports were down 8% year-over-year to 326,494 metric tons and 22% lower in value, which reached $2.35 billion.
“I’m optimistic because of the foodservice business in Asia, especially when it comes to beef,” he said. “We were hamstrung in Japan, Korea and China last year because of COVID lockdowns. But foodservice is coming back in Korea in a big way. We’re starting to see trendlines headed in the right way in Japan, and we’re looking for foodservice in China to come back after COVID lockdowns ended in December.”
He's expects markets like the Philippines, Vietnam and Colombia could exceed expectations.
“There could be some opportunities ahead for U.S. pork to step into the Philippines and Vietnam for additional exports because of what’s happening in the EU,” Halstrom said. “Europe was down 5% last year in pork production and is forecast to drop at least another 5% this year.”
European countries are big suppliers in the Philippines and Vietnam, so slow exports there could make for some opportunities for U.S. pork, he added. The drop in European pork production could also raise opportunities for U.S. beef.
“There’s a gap in protein production that U.S. producers might be able to fill,” Halstrom said.
One sure-fire advantage the U.S. has in filling those gaps is America is known across the globe as a very reliable supplier of protein.
“There’s a lot of good things going on in the space of what we’d call new and emerging markets,” Halstrom said.
Chad Smith can be reached at email@example.com.