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May Pork Exports Highest in Two Years; Beef Exports Below Record-Large, Year-Ago Totals

Published: Jul 07, 2023

May Pork Exports Highest in Two Years; Beef Exports Below Record-Large, Year-Ago Totals

Led by another outstanding month in Mexico and robust demand for variety meat, exports of U.S. pork continued to gain momentum in May, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). While well below the record-large volume and value posted in May 2022, beef exports improved from April and were the second largest (behind March) of 2023. 

May pork exports reached 261,361 metric tons (mt), up 16% from a year ago, the ninth largest on record and the largest since May 2021. Export value climbed 12% to $731.1 million, also the highest since May 2021 and the seventh highest on record. Pork variety meat exports were particularly outstanding in May, setting a value record of $127 million. 

Through the first five months of the year, pork and pork variety meat exports were 14% above last year’s pace at 1.22 million mt, valued at $3.35 billion (up 13%). 

“While pork shipments to Mexico are on a remarkable pace, it takes a wide range of markets to achieve double-digit growth,” explained Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “Demand is strong throughout the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. industry continues to make gains in Asian markets where supplies of European pork are much tighter than a year ago.” 

Beef exports totaled 116,159 mt, down 14% from the May 2022 record but up 4% from the previous month. Export value was $874.7 million, down 19% year-over-year but 2% above April. For January through May, beef exports were down 10% to 554,069 mt, valued at $4.09 billion (down 21%). 

“U.S. beef exports face considerable headwinds in 2023, on both the supply and demand side, especially when compared to last year’s massive totals,” Halstrom said. “To address tighter beef supplies, USMEF has heightened efforts to showcase underutilized cuts, even in our well-established markets. It’s also encouraging to see beef variety meat exports maintain a strong pace, as this is essential for maximizing carcass value.”

Record value for pork variety meat highlights May export growth

Pork exports to leading market Mexico remained on a record-shattering pace in May, soaring 21% from a year ago to 96,811 mt and climbing 16% in value to $198.9 million. This pushed January-May export volume to 447,081 mt, up 13% from a year ago, while value increased 24% to $890.1 million. While most pork shipments to Mexico are muscle cuts – either for further processing or as featured items in Mexico’s retail and foodservice sectors – Mexico’s demand for pork variety meat has also strengthened this year. Through May, variety meat shipments increased 46% to 64,232 mt, valued at $111.4 million (up 40%). 

May pork exports to South Korea totaled 21,182 mt, up 25% from a year ago. Export value increased 21% to $73.4 million, the highest in more than five years and the fourth highest on record. Through May, exports to Korea climbed 15% year-over-year to 87,577 mt, valued at $283.5 million (up 6%). U.S. pork, which enters Korea at zero duty under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, has achieved this growth despite an influx of Canadian, Mexican and Brazilian pork, which have benefited from Korea’s recent implementation of duty-free import quotas. Korea’s January-May imports of pork from the EU were down 23%, and this decline was not fully offset by strong growth from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Brazil. 

As noted above, exports of pork variety meat reached a record $127 million in May, up 24% from a year ago. Export volume was 51,826 mt, up 27% and the ninth largest on record. January-May variety exports are on a record pace, soaring 35% above last year’s pace to 246,856 mt, with value up 24% to $585.6 million. China remains the leading destination for U.S. pork variety meat, but 2023 export growth has also been driven by Mexico, the ASEAN, Canada, South America and the Caribbean.   

Other January-May export results for U.S. pork include: 

  • Demand for U.S. pork has rebounded strongly in Australia, where May exports more than doubled from a year ago to 9,520 mt (up 103%), while export value increased 91% to $32.7 million. Through May, exports to Australia increased 69% year-over-year in volume (25,666 mt) and 62% in value ($89.3 million). Due to import restrictions, all fresh pork shipments to Australia must go directly into further processing. But Australia also accepts value-added processed U.S. pork products, which are popular in the retail and foodservice sectors.   

  • May pork exports to Taiwan were the largest in 12 years at 3,289 mt, up more than sixfold from the low volume posted a year ago. Export value was $11.2 million, up from just $1.8 million in May 2022. Through the first five months of the year, exports to Taiwan increased more than 400% from a year ago in both volume (6,513 mt) and value ($21.2 million). Faced with tightening domestic supplies, due in part to incidents of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, and a slowdown in imports due to higher EU prices, Taiwan recently implemented a small (about 9 cents per pound) subsidy to incentivize pork imports. 

  • Led by strong growth in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, May pork exports to Central America increased 16% from a year ago to 10,514 mt, while value climbed 21% to $29.9 million. Through May, exports to the region were up 2% in volume (51,520 mt) and 8% in value ($145.7 million). 

  • Robust growth in the Philippines and a huge spike in demand from Malaysia pushed January-May pork exports to the ASEAN region to 27,202 mt, up 52% from a year ago, while value climbed 33% to $65.1 million. In both countries, domestic pork production has been hampered significantly by outbreaks of African swine fever. The EU has been the dominant supplier to these countries in the past but smaller EU production and higher prices are limiting exports this year. 

  • Pork exports to Japan continued to trend below last year in May, falling 4% to just under 31,000 mt, while export value was down 7% to $123.4 million. Through May, shipments to Japan were 2% below last year’s pace at 154,849 mt, valued at $617.7 million (down 7%). Japan is the primary overseas destination for U.S. chilled pork, but exports faced an uncertain shipping environment until a tentative West Coast port labor contract was reached in mid-June. The U.S. industry’s primary competitor in Japan’s chilled pork market is Canada, where West Coast longshoremen are currently on strike. 

  • Pork export value equated to $69.08 per head slaughtered in May, up 6% from a year ago. The January-May average was $63.39 per head, up 10%. Exports accounted for 32% of total May pork production, up substantially from a year ago (28.6%). For muscle cuts only, exports accounted for 27.6% of production, up from 25.2%. The January-May ratios were 29.6% of total production and 25.4% for muscle cuts, up from 26.3% and 23.4%, respectively.

May beef exports lower overall, but strengthen in North America and Taiwan

For many major markets, May exports of U.S. beef trended below last year’s record-setting totals. But Mexico was a strong exception, with shipments climbing 9% to 17,254 mt, valued at $94.2 million (up 14%). Through the first five months of the year, exports to Mexico were 13% above last year’s pace at 82,166 mt, with value up 17% to $459.6 million. Mexico is the largest volume destination for U.S. beef variety meat, with exports through May increasing 16% to 42,613 mt. Export value climbed 20% to $120.4 million. 

While below last year’s large volume, May exports of beef variety meat were the largest in 12 months at 26,961 mt, with value the highest since November at $99.5 million. In addition to Mexico (see above), variety meat exports trended higher to South Korea, South Africa, Hong Kong and Central America. While still below last year, exports to Japan were the largest of 2023 at 4,287 mt. For January through May, beef variety meat exports were 5% below last year at 117,611 mt, while value fell 15% to $448.2 million.

For the first time in 2023, May beef exports to Taiwan exceeded last year’s volume, climbing 9% to 6,142 mt – the largest since April 2022 and the ninth highest on record. Export value was $59.6 million, down 7% from a year ago but the largest since August. For January through May, exports to Taiwan were down 16% from a year ago to 26,534 mt, valued at $259.8 million (down 31%). 

Other January-May export results for U.S. beef include: 

  • May beef exports to Canada totaled 11,319 mt, up 17% from a year ago and the largest since December 2021. Export value increased 23% to $95.6 million, the highest in nearly eight years. January-May exports to Canada were down 2% to 41,799 mt, valued at $327.3 million (down 6%). 

  • Exports to leading market Korea totaled 23,657 mt in May, down 12% from a year ago, while export value fell 27% to $194.3 million. Through May, exports to Korea were 11% below last year’s record pace at 112,365 mt, valued at $901.4 million (down 30%). 

  • January-May beef exports to China/Hong Kong totaled 98,671 mt, down 11% from a year ago, while value declined 16% to $852.2 million. But exports to Hong Kong have strengthened in 2023, bolstered by the gradual, post-COVID rebound in tourism and business travel. Through May, exports to Hong Kong increased 30% to just under 16,000 mt, valued at $162.3 million (up 11%). 

  • May beef exports to Japan fell significantly from a year ago, reflecting persistent economic headwinds, the weak yen and Japan’s high tariffs on beef imports. May exports were 19,291 mt, down 33% and the lowest since early 2016. Export value was down 40% to $137.1 million. Through May, exports to Japan were down 15% year-over-year to 108,359 mt, valued at $757.6 million (down 27%). 

  • Beef exports to South Africa continued to shine in May, increasing 77% to 1,481 mt, valued at $1.6 million (up 21%). For January through May, exports were 142% above last year at 8,680 mt, with value up 120% to $9.4 million. Exports to South Africa are almost entirely beef variety meat. 

  • While beef exports to Central America are trending below last year, demand has strengthened substantially in Honduras. Through May, shipments to Honduras increased 9% year-over-year to 1,256 mt, while value climbed 21% to just under $6 million. 

  • Beef export value equated to $399.71 per head of fed slaughter in May, down 21% from a year ago. The January-May average was $391.66, down 19%. Exports accounted for 14.7% of total May beef production and 12.1% for muscle cuts only, down from the exceptionally high ratios (17.2% and 14.6%, respectively) posted in May 2022. The January-May ratios were 14.4% of total production and 12.2% for muscle cuts, each down about one percentage point from the same period last year.    

Lamb exports trend lower in May

May exports of U.S. lamb muscle cuts totaled 141 mt, down 32% from a year ago and the lowest volume of 2023. Export value was $772,409, down 17%. May exports declined to most major destinations, but increased to the Bahamas. 

For January through May, exports remained 9% above last year’s pace at 958 mt, valued at $5.5 million (up 5%).

Complete January-May 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.

  • As noted the past several months, USMEF has raised concerns in recent years with USDA about export data collected by the Department of Commerce for lamb variety meat to Mexico. Reported volumes have declined dramatically since July, suggesting that the data reported in prior months and years were disproportionately high. USMEF is therefore focusing year-over-year comparisons on lamb muscle cuts only.

  • 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).