U.S. pork and beef exports opened 2021 below the large volumes posted a year ago, according to January data released by USDA and compiled by USMEF.
January pork exports totaled 248,656 mt, down 9% from a year ago but slightly above USMEF’s projections. Export value was down 13% to $642.8 million. Pork muscle cut exports were down 11% in volume (208,234 mt) and 15% in value ($551.3 million), while pork variety meat shipments trended modestly higher than a year ago.
Beef exports totaled 105,047 metric tons (mt) in January, down 2% from a year ago, while value slipped 3% to $653 million. The decline was due mainly to lower beef variety meat shipments, as muscle cut exports were steady with January 2020 at 81,398 mt, valued at $584.4 million (down 1%) and accounted for a larger share of production than a year ago.
USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom said January represented a fairly solid start to 2021, but cautioned that exports still face COVID-related obstacles and significant transportation and labor challenges.
“As key destinations for U.S. red meat roll out COVID vaccination programs, the outlook for 2021 is optimistic, with retail meat demand remaining strong and the expectation that foodservice will rebound in more and more regions,” Halstrom said. “But transportation challenges are currently a dominant concern, particularly the congestion and container shortages at our West Coast ports where shorthanded crews are handling record-large cargo volumes. Labor is also at a premium in processing plants, which affects the industry’s ability to fully capitalize on demand for certain labor-intensive cuts and variety meat items.
“Although the global foodservice sector still has a long recovery ahead, international demand for U.S. red meat remains impressive and resilient,” Halstrom added. “But a range of logistical challenges must be overcome in order to fully satisfy this demand.”
Pork exports led by growth in Japan, Central America, Philippines and Caribbean
January pork exports equated to $57.14 per head slaughtered, down 9% from a year ago. Exports accounted for 28.2% of total pork production and 25.4% for muscle cuts only, down from 29.8% and 27.4%, respectively, in January 2020.
As expected, pork exports to China/Hong Kong were well below last year’s very large volumes but still reached 76,202 mt (down 21% from a year ago) valued at $173.3 million (down 29%). While USMEF expects exports to the region to remain below 2020 levels throughout the year, China still has a pressing need for imported pork. January exports included a mix of frozen cuts, bone-in hams and boxed carcasses. Carcass export volume was 5,923 mt, the largest since June.
Despite the continued 25% retaliatory duty on U.S. pork and pork variety meats, China’s demand for pork variety meat remains strong, with January exports of pork variety meat to China/Hong Kong increasing 18% from a year ago to 24,475 mt.
Pork exports to Japan opened 2021 on a positive note, increasing 2% from a year ago in both volume (32,332 mt) and value ($134.6 million). Demand for chilled U.S. pork remains very strong in Japan’s retail sector and the U.S. industry has reclaimed market share for ground seasoned pork since the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (implemented in January 2020) slashed the duty rate and eliminated a severe tariff disadvantage. Japan’s duty rate on ground seasoned pork will notch down again on April 1 to 6.6%, compared to the pre-trade agreement rate of 20%.
Coming off a record year in 2020, pork exports to Central America continued to shine in January at 11,023 mt, up 56% from a year ago, valued at $26.9 million (up 43%). January export volume was the fourth largest on record and significantly above the usual seasonal trend, as exports more than doubled to Panama and posted impressive growth in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Other January highlights for U.S. pork exports include:
  • Exports to the Philippines nearly doubled from a year ago, increasing 98% to 4,739 mt valued at $11.3 million (up 99%). Philippine officials are currently considering a temporary tariff rate quota increase and tariff rate reductions on imported pork in an effort to bolster supplies and stabilize prices, which could open additional opportunities for U.S. pork.
  • Led by strong growth in the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, exports to the Caribbean increased 33% from a year ago to 6,361 mt, with value up 27% to $15.4 million.
  • Pork exports to Colombia slumped in 2020 but showed improvement late in the year. This momentum continued in January as exports reached 6,624 mt, up 6% from a year ago, valued at $15.2 million (down 2%). Led by continued growth in Chile, January exports to South America increased 3% from a year ago to 10,472 mt, though value was down 4% to $26.7 million.
  • Following a very strong fourth quarter performance, exports to Mexico trended lower in January at 63,757 mt, down 10% from a year ago, while value fell 18% to $110.5 million.
Complete January export results for U.S. pork, beef and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics Web page.
January Red Meat Exports Below Year-Ago Levels Amid Transportation, Labor Challenges