U.S. beef exports soared to another new value record in March, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). March pork exports were the largest so far this year but well below the record-large totals posted in March 2021. Lamb exports continued to gain momentum in March, reaching the third largest monthly volume on record and the highest value in nearly eight years.
Beef exports totaled 126,285 metric tons (mt) in March, up 1% from a year ago and the third largest on record, while value climbed 33% to a record $1.07 billion. First quarter exports increased 6% to 353,852 mt, valued at just over $3 billion (up 41%).
“Global demand for U.S. beef has eclipsed anything I have seen in many years in the meat business,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “While this momentum is fueled by mainstay markets such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, demand is also very strong in China/Hong Kong and key Latin American markets, while exports to the Middle East have rebounded impressively.”
Halstrom cautioned that first quarter results do not fully reflect the impact of recent COVID-19 lockdowns in China that have slowed product movement and forced many restaurants to suspend or limit service. These obstacles are likely to have a greater impact on April and May export data. He also noted that while beef demand has been very resilient, inflation represents a potential headwind.
“Consumers throughout the world have shown how much they value the quality of U.S. beef, but disposable income is under increasing pressure as they pay more for energy and other daily needs,” he said.
March pork exports were 222,581 mt, the largest since November but nearly 25% below the record volume achieved a year ago. Export value was $615.3 million, also the highest since November but down 23% year-over-year. First quarter pork exports fell 20% from a year ago to 629,928 mt, valued at $1.71 billion (down 17%).
“While pork exports were down significantly from last year’s record, we saw some encouraging trends in the March results,” Halstrom explained. “U.S. pork commanded a higher price per pound than a year ago, with outstanding demand from Mexico and value growth in key markets such as South Korea and the Dominican Republic. The stronger U.S. dollar creates more price pressure in some destinations, but this will be offset to some degree by the narrowing price gap between U.S. and European pork.”
Halstrom added that pork, beef and lamb exporters continue to face logistical obstacles and delays when moving product overseas. The situation is especially challenging for chilled meat shipments to key Asian markets.
Korea emerges as top destination for U.S. beef, but Q1 growth broad-based
March beef exports to leading market South Korea totaled 26,834 mt, up 11% from a year ago, valued at $278.3 million – up 58% and the second highest on record, trailing only the record total ($316.4 million) posted in January.
First quarter exports to Korea were 75,445 mt, up 9% from a year ago, while export value climbed 57% to $792.6 million. Export growth to Korea has been largely driven by soaring retail demand, but the foodservice climate received a boost in April as Korea removed all COVID-related limits on restaurant operating hours and lifted most social distancing restrictions on consumers.
Following a similar course, Japan recently lifted the COVID quasi-state of emergency that was in place in 18 of the country’s 47 prefectures. March beef exports to Japan were 25,690 mt, down 10% from a year ago, but value still increased 17% to $212.6 million. First quarter exports to Japan climbed 22% in value to $594.2 million, despite a 4% decline in volume (72,179 mt).
China has taken a decidedly different approach to COVID outbreaks, recently imposing lockdowns in several large population centers. These policies have made it difficult for U.S. exporters to supply beef and pork to China and slowed demand from confined consumers. However, these developments will likely have a more significant impact on second quarter export results. COVID restrictions also slowed demand in Hong Kong, where the mandatory closing time for restaurants was only recently extended from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. and the per-table limit was raised from two people to four.
With direct exports to China setting a new record, March beef exports to China/Hong Kong reached 22,745 mt, up 11% from a year ago, valued at $207.7 million (up 26%). This pushed first quarter export volume to 62,237 mt, up 36% year-over-year, while value climbed 59% to $582.4 million.
Other first quarter results for U.S. beef exports include:
- Exports to Taiwan raced to a fast start in 2022, climbing 47% from a year ago to 18,243 mt, while export value nearly doubled to $227.2 million (up 92%). The U.S. continues to dominate Taiwan’s chilled beef market, capturing 80% market share. Taiwan has seen surging COVID cases in April and early May but is not imposing lockdowns.
- After a record year in 2021, demand in Central America continues to trend higher, led by excellent growth in Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras. First quarter exports to the region increased 14% to 5,950 mt, valued at $42 million (up 38%).
- With foodservice demand rebounding in the Caribbean, exports increased 41% to 6,337 mt, with value more than doubling to $56.8 million (up 109%). Growth was led by the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
- Beef exports to the Middle East continue to rebound, led by stronger variety meat demand in Egypt and muscle cut growth in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. March exports to Qatar were the highest since 2011 and exports to Bahrain were the third largest on record. First quarter exports to the region increased 13% to 18,490 mt, valued at $74.8 million (up 38%).
- While first quarter exports of beef variety meat edged modestly higher in volume (353,852 mt, up 3%), these items commanded sharply higher prices as export value climbed 34% to just over $300 million. In addition to Egypt, export value increased impressively to Japan, China and the Caribbean.
- March beef export value equated to $472.73 per head of fed slaughter, up 36% from a year ago. The first quarter average was $474.10 per head, up 41%. Exports accounted for 14.7% of total March beef production, up from 14.5% a year ago, while the ratio for muscle cuts was steady at 12.7%. First quarter exports also accounted for 14.7% of total production and 12.7% for muscle cuts, up from 14.1% and 11.9%, respectively.
Pork export surge to Mexico continues; DR and Honduras also strong in March
Following a record year in 2021, pork exports to Mexico continue to climb to new heights. March exports reached 82,348 mt, up 24% from a year ago, with value increasing 14% to $149 million. First quarter exports to Mexico soared 30% to 243,314 mt, valued at $404.2 million (up 17%). While a large percentage of U.S. pork shipments to Mexico are bone-in hams and other cuts destined for further processing, the U.S. industry has also made impressive gains in Mexico’s retail and foodservice sectors.
Demand for U.S. pork continues to strengthen in the Dominican Republic, where domestic production has slowed due to the presence of African swine fever. March exports increased 7% from a year ago to a record 7,038 mt, valued at $17.9 million (up 15%). First quarter exports to the DR also increased 7% to 22,416 mt, with value up 12% to $45.6 million. With shipments also trending higher to the Bahamas and Leeward-Winward Islands, first quarter exports to the Caribbean increased 5% in volume (22,416 mt) and 15% in value ($59 million).
March exports to Honduras, the largest Central American destination for U.S. pork, were the second largest on record at 5,487 mt, up 3% from a year ago, with value steady at $11.4 million. First quarter exports to Honduras were still down 6% in both volume (12,024 mt) and value ($25.1 million). Exports to Central America remained relatively strong in the first quarter but were below last year’s record pace by 14% in volume (30,729 mt) and 9% in value ($81.9 million) as importers built inventories in the fourth quarter of last year.
Other first quarter results for U.S. pork exports include:
- Pork exports to South Korea continue to trend higher in value, increasing 14% from a year ago to $154.4 million, driven in part by strong retail demand for convenience-based items and chilled pork cuts. Export volume to Korea fell 6% from a year ago to 43,950 mt. Korea’s first quarter imports of chilled U.S. pork were up 29% in volume (2,642 mt) and climbed 57% in value to $18.3 million.
- As anticipated, first quarter exports to China/Hong Kong dropped significantly from a year ago in both volume (104,286 mt, down 56%) and value ($279.2 million, down 48%). The region is still the dominant destination for U.S. pork variety meat, although demand for these items slowed in the first quarter 2022. China’s zero-COVID policies have added tremendous costs and in some cases led to restricted sales of imported cold chain food, affecting pork shipments from all foreign suppliers. While demand for U.S. pork variety meat remains strong, barriers in the market have worsened in 2022. First quarter variety meat exports to China/Hong Kong were down 16% from a year ago to 62,742 mt, but export value still increased 2% to $178.9 million.
- Global exports of U.S. pork variety meat followed a trend similar to China/Hong Kong, increasing 1% in value ($282 million) despite a 12% decline in volume (107,859 mt). Impressive year-over-year gains in Canada, Japan, Colombia, Central America and the Dominican Republic helped offset lower shipments to Mexico and the ASEAN region. The labor situation in U.S. plants has generally improved but is still a limiting factor for variety meat capture and export, along with the logistical constraints.
- Following a strong performance in February, pork exports to Japan were disappointing in March – falling significantly from the large totals achieved a year ago. For the first quarter, exports to Japan were down 13% to 91,234 mt, valued at $392.5 million (down 10%). Logistical issues continue to impact the market, but Japan reported relatively strong imports of U.S. chilled pork in March (20,260 mt, up 2% and the most since April 2021). Dramatic devaluation of the yen did not have a big impact on first quarter results but shifted the demand structure in April and May.
- March pork export value equated to $54.70 per head slaughtered, down 19% from a year ago. The first quarter average was $54.18 per head, down 10%. Exports accounted for 25.2% of total March pork production and 22.4% for muscle cuts, each down sharply from the very high ratios (32.2% and 29.1%, respectively) seen in March 2021. For the first quarter, exports accounted for 25.4% of total production and 22.6% for muscle cuts, down from 28.7% and 25.8%, respectively, in 2021.
Caribbean rebound, Mexico growth bolster March lamb exports
March exports of U.S. lamb increased 75% from a year ago to 1,906 mt, the largest volume since 2011 and the third largest on record. Export value nearly doubled to $2.88 million, up 95% and the highest since 2014. Growth continues to be led by variety meat exports to top market Mexico, but muscle cut demand also rebounded in Mexico and the Caribbean and showed promising growth in the Philippines.
First quarter lamb exports increased 54% from a year ago to 5,019 mt, while value climbed 72% to $7.35 million. Muscle cut exports grew at an even faster pace, up 80% from a year ago in volume (492 mt) and 88% in value ($3.04 million).
Complete first quarter export results for U.S. pork, beef and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics web page.
For questions, please contact Joe Schuele or call 303-547-0030.
- Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat, unless otherwise noted.
- One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.
- U.S. pork and beef currently face retaliatory duties in China. In February 2020, China announced a duty exclusion process that allows importers to apply for relief from duties imposed in response to U.S. Section 301 duties. When an application is successful, the rate for U.S. beef can decline to the MFN rate of 12% and the rate for U.S. pork can decline to 37% (the MFN rate plus the 25% Section 232 retaliatory duty, which remains in place).