April was the strongest month so far this year for U.S. beef exports, despite a decline of 8% in volume (94,734 metric tons) compared to last year. April export value was $469 million – 9% higher than a year ago. From January through April, beef exports were up 6% in value to $1.72 billion despite a 10% decline in volume (361,122 metric tons).
Though beef export volume has slowed somewhat from the record pace of 2011, higher export value has been achieved in nearly every major market. Export value per head of fed slaughter has been especially strong, reaching nearly $233 in April (compared to $203.70 a year ago) and averaging $210.77 for the first four months of the year.
April beef exports equated to nearly 14% of production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat, and 11% of production for muscle cuts only. These ratios were roughly even with April 2011 but higher than in the first quarter of this year.
Individual market highlights for U.S. beef included:
- April exports to Russia were the largest of the year, pushing 2012 exports 20% higher in volume (24,024 metric tons) and 92% higher in value ($100.5 million).
- Exports to Japan slipped by 10% in volume (40,131 metric tons) through April but still achieved an 8% increase in value to $265.4 million. A Food Safety Commission review of the 20-month cattle age restriction on imports of U.S. beef continues, though no definite timeline is in place for easing of this regulation.
- Led by soaring results in Chile and substantial increases in Guatemala and Peru, exports to Central and South America were up 38% in volume (11,257 metric tons) and 87% in value ($42.9 million) through April.
- Though exports to Korea remain lower for the year, April exports were higher than a year ago and the strongest of 2012. Through the first four months of 2012, exports to Korea totaled 47,135 metric tons (down 28%) valued at $220.5 million (down 22%).
- Exports to the Middle East remained strong with value up 15% to $108.4 million through April and volume down just 2% to 47,340 metric tons. This is an especially solid performance considering the recently weakening currency in Brazil, the region's leading beef supplier.
It is important to note that April results are not likely to reflect any change in market access or consumer behavior as a result of the recent BSE case in California, which was announced April 24.
"We are pleased that nearly all of our trading partners took a science-based approach to the situation and imposed no changes in market access for U.S. beef," explained Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO.
"But when May results become available, we'll see some impact from the suspension imposed by Saudi Arabia. We also expect to see a temporary decline in Korea, where some negative consumer reaction was apparent. USMEF is working on several fronts to minimize the impact in Korea, and the situation is far better than it was four years ago when the market first reopened to U.S. beef. However, BSE is still a very sensitive issue in that market," he said.