Despite a continued slump in U.S. red meat export volume and a further dip in August sales, the value of beef exports for the first eight months of the year remained slightly ahead of 2011's record-setting pace, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
U.S. beef exports in August were the second-largest of the year at 100,468 metric tons, but this was still 14% below the August 2011 volume. In value, August exports totaled $486.2 million. While 5% lower than a year ago, it was also the second-highest monthly total of 2012.
For January through August, beef exports were 11% lower than a year ago in volume (759,901 metric tons) but still 2% above last year's record value pace at $3.66 billion.
"We face a challenging business climate in several key markets, with rising production costs and slowing economic growth creating some anxiety among buyers," says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng regarding overall meat trade. "We're also seeing a surge in domestic meat supplies in some areas, particularly in South Korea. But the commitment to enhancing global demand for U.S. beef and pork remains very strong, as evidenced by the terrific support of our producer organizations. These are the circumstances in which effective global marketing takes on an even greater level of importance, as producers need to maximize the value of every cut and every carcass."
January-August beef exports accounted for 9.8% of muscle cut production and 12.7% when including variety meat – down from last year's ratios of 11% and 14.2%. Export value per head of fed slaughter, however, was up about 6% from last year to $212.05.
Beef exports to Japan continued to shine in August, up 20% in volume (17,588 metric tons) from a year ago and increasing 48% in value to $119.3 million. Through August, 2012 exports to Japan were steady with last year in volume at 108,720 metric tons, but 23% higher in value at $719.5 million – ranking a close second behind Canada for the leading beef value market.
"While the timeline is uncertain, we remain hopeful that a broader supply of U.S. beef will soon be eligible for Japan," Seng says. "This is more critical than ever as demand for U.S. beef is extremely strong. In addition to the traditional forequarter cuts and short plates, and other items such as beef tongue, our key buyers in Japan have a growing interest in middle meats and very high-end cuts. Demand for Prime and higher-level Choice cuts is very promising"
Though exports to Canada were down 15% in volume through August (111,372 metric tons), export value remained 4% above last year's record pace at $736.5 million. Exports to the Middle East followed a similar pattern, slipping 9% in volume (103,231 metric tons) but increasing 4% in value to $229 million. Beef muscle cut exports to the Middle East (-18% in volume to 28,397 metric tons and steady in value at $127.5 million) continue to be hindered by lack of access to Saudi Arabia, which closed to U.S. beef due to the April 24 BSE case.
Led by a strong performance in Vietnam, exports to the ASEAN region were up 11% in value ($181.9 million) through August despite a 6% decline in volume (44,548 metric tons). Beef markets achieving increases in both volume and value included:
• Russia, +8% to 52,907 metric tons and +31% to $214 million
• Hong Kong, +9% to 36,907 metric tons and +28% to $194.1 million
• Central and South America, +37% to 23,766 metric tons and +77% to $87.9 million
Mexico remains the largest volume market for U.S. beef at 140,228 metric tons (-17%) but has slipped to third in value ($590 million, -9%). While still a critical market for underutilized muscle cuts and variety meat, Mexico's weak peso and sluggish economy have contributed to a difficult business climate in this price-sensitive market.
Exports to South Korea (84,406 metric tons, -23%, valued at $388.8 million, -20%) faced similar circumstances, but were also curbed by a surge in domestic meat supplies. With Korea's livestock inventory recently reaching its highest level ever, its imports from all major beef suppliers have trended lower this year.
Complete export results for beef are available online.