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U.S. Pork Exports Solid in December; Beef Exports Trend Lower

Published: Feb 08, 2016

U.S. pork exports posted a strong finish in 2015 as December volume was the largest since April and the third-largest of the year, according to data released by USDA and compiled by USMEF. Beef exports were below year-ago levels in December and posted the first full-year value decline since 2009.

December exports of U.S. pork were up 3 percent from a year ago to 188,410 metric tons (mt). Export value was $468.9 million, down 13 percent from a year ago but the highest since May. For the full calendar year, pork exports were down 2 percent from a year ago in volume (2.13 million mt) and 16 percent lower in value ($5.58 billion). Pork muscle cut exports increased 3 percent in volume (1.7 million mt) while falling 15 percent in value ($4.77 billion), but pork variety meat exports declined significantly in both volume (434,661 mt, down 17 percent) and value ($808.4 million, down 22 percent). However, as USMEF has previously noted, year-over-year comparisons, especially for pork variety meat, may not be entirely accurate due to issues with 2014 data for Japan.*

Pork exports accounted for 24 percent of total 2015 production and 21 percent for muscle cuts only – down from 26.5 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in 2014. Export value per head slaughtered averaged $48.31, down 23 percent from 2014.

December U.S. beef exports totaled 94,586 mt, down 6 percent from a year ago and slightly lower than in November, while export value fell 21 percent to $507.3 million. In 2015, beef exports were down 11 percent from a year ago in volume to 1.07 million mt. Export value was $6.3 billion, 12 percent below the 2014 record of $7.14 billion.

Beef exports accounted for 13 percent of total 2015 production and 10 percent for muscle cuts only – each down one percentage point from a year ago. Export value per head of fed slaughter averaged $277.87, down 7 percent from the previous year’s record but still up 13 percent from 2013.

“There is no question that 2015 was a challenging year for red meat exports, with several economic headwinds taking a toll,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “But with production increasing in the year ahead in both the beef and pork industries, we cannot afford to dwell on these circumstances or back away from our commitment to the international markets. We must continue to find innovative ways to differentiate U.S. products, win back market share and regain momentum for exports in 2016. That means aggressive pursuit of new customers and new opportunities, in both emerging and established markets.”

Pork exports to Mexico set fourth consecutive record; rebound to China continues

Pork exports to Mexico set a new monthly record in December at 67,980 mt, pushing 2015 volume to 718,819 mt – up 6 percent from 2014 and setting a new record for the fourth consecutive year. Export value was down 19 percent to $1.27 billion, reflecting lower U.S. prices, but demand for U.S. pork held up extremely well in Mexico considering the peso was down an average of 16 percent versus the U.S. dollar in 2015.

With several U.S. pork plants recently regaining eligibility for China, December exports to the China/Hong Kong region posted the largest volume in nearly two years at 33,691 mt (up 27 percent year-over-year). In 2015, exports to China/Hong Kong edged 1 percent higher in volume (339,056 mt) and were down 10 percent in value ($700.4 million). China/Hong Kong’s imports from all suppliers set a new record of 1.937 million mt in 2015, up 8 percent. While the U.S. industry capitalized on this trend late in the year, the European Union was the primary beneficiary, capturing about 70 percent market share.

Exports to leading value market Japan struggled in 2015, declining 13 percent year-over-year in volume (406,186 mt) and 18 percent in value ($1.59 billion, the lowest since 2009). A recent decline in Japan’s frozen inventories indicates opportunities for import growth in 2016. But the U.S. continues to face increasing competition in Japan, especially from European suppliers.

Other 2015 highlights for U.S. pork (with comparisons to 2014) included:

  • Exports to South Korea increased 24 percent in volume (167,524 mt) and 6 percent in value ($470.2 million). Korea’s imports from all suppliers expanded in 2015 as domestic pork production recovered slowly from porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and suffered new outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.
  • After slumping in the first half of the year, exports to Australia rebounded to 57,763 mt (up 15 percent), while value slipped by 5 percent to $171.9 million.
  • Exports to the Caribbean increased 13 percent in volume (41,143 mt) and fell 3 percent in value ($100.8 million). This performance was led by record-large exports to the Dominican Republic, which surged 38 percent in volume (23,265 mt) and 13 percent in value ($53.1 million).
  • Taiwan showed renewed demand for U.S. pork in 2015, with exports increasing 29 percent in volume (20,278 mt) and 4 percent in value ($39.9 million).

Korea, Taiwan, Caribbean main bright spots for 2015 beef exports

Fueled by strong demand for chilled U.S. beef in its retail and foodservice sectors, beef exports to South Korea increased 7 percent year-over-year in volume (126,093 mt) while slipping 4 percent in value ($810.4 million). Korea’s imports of chilled U.S. beef were up about 40 percent in 2015, with U.S. market share reaching 31 percent.

Beef exports to Taiwan increased 4 percent year-over-year in volume to 35,286 mt and set a new value record of $318.5 million (up 8 percent). U.S. chilled beef market share in Taiwan is more than 60 percent, the highest of any Asian destination.

Exports to the Caribbean increased 1 percent year-over-year in volume (23,208 mt) and 7 percent in value ($165.7 million) in 2015. Similar to pork, the value increase was driven in large part by strong demand in the Dominican Republic ($58.7 million, up 6 percent), but double-digit increases were also achieved in the Bahamas ($24.6 million, up 11 percent) and Jamaica ($16.5 million, up 10 percent).

While Japan remained the leading value market for U.S. beef in 2015, exports declined 15 percent year-over-year in volume (204,927 mt) and 19 percent in value ($1.28 billion, the lowest since 2012). Japan imported less beef from all suppliers in 2015, but the U.S. lost market share to Australia, due in part to the 10 percentage point tariff advantage enjoyed by Australian beef under its economic partnership agreement with Japan.

While the weak peso affected demand for U.S. beef in Mexico, exports still topped the $1 billion mark for the second consecutive year ($1.09 billion, down 6 percent). Mexico reclaimed its position as the leading destination for beef variety meat exports, which increased 8 percent in volume (110,085 mt) and 9 percent in value ($290.3 million). This helped offset a decline in variety meat exports to Egypt, which fell 15 percent in volume (103,276 mt) but still achieved a 3 percent increase in value ($148.6 million).

Lamb exports end tough year on high note

December exports of U.S. lamb were the largest since June at 1,057 mt, up 44 percent year-over-year, while value posted a modest increase to $1.79 million. For the full year, lamb exports declined 9 percent in volume (9,442 mt) and 30 percent in value ($19 million) as lower exports to Mexico offset gains in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica.

Complete 2015 export totals for U.S. beef, pork and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics webpage.

For more information, please contact Joe Schuele at or 303-226-7309.


  • Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat unless otherwise noted.
  • One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.
  • *Excluding Japan, 2015 pork variety meat exports were down 8 percent year-over-year to 405,322 mt. In 2014, some exports for Japan were miscoded as large intestines and the data has not yet been corrected, thus skewing the 2015 comparisons. If this product is recoded as muscle cuts, pork muscle cut comparisons will also be skewed. Therefore it is most accurate to compare the combined pork and pork variety meat export volumes.