March exports of U.S. beef were down in volume from a year ago but edged slightly higher in value, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
March beef export volume of 83,612 metric tons (mt) was down 7% from a year ago but export value ($440.7 million) was slightly higher. Beef exports finished the first quarter 4% lower in volume (256,587 mt) but 5% ahead of last year's record pace in value ($1.3 billion).
"We are definitely facing a challenging environment in several of our leading markets," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "Some of these trends are anticipated, such as the lower demand for exports where domestic production is up and inventories are plentiful. But the trade impasse with Russia is very frustrating because we have lost access to a market where demand for our product is extremely strong."
March beef exports equated to 9% of U.S. muscle cut production and 12% when adding variety meat – ratios consistent with a year ago. Export value equated to $222.20 per head of fed slaughter, up from 9% in March 2012. First quarter export value was $221, also an increase of 9%.
Expanded access boosts beef exports to Japan, Hong Kong
Beef exports to Japan received an excellent bounce from aggressive promotional campaigns designed to capitalize on the recently expanded market access. March volume (18,565 mt) was nearly 80% higher than a year ago and value was up 62% to $114.2 million. This pushed first-quarter exports to Japan 30% higher in both volume (38,483 mt) and value ($252.1 million).
Japan ranks second in beef export value to Canada, where U.S. exports also posted an outstanding first quarter. Export volume to Canada increased 20% to 44,305 mt while value was up 32% to $284.2 million. This made Canada the leading volume and value destination for U.S. beef.
Beef exports to Hong Kong more than doubled in volume in the first quarter to 22,217 mt, while value increased 93% to 123.4 million. Market access was also expanded in Hong Kong in late February, when the market began accepting bone-in cuts from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age and boneless cuts from cattle of all ages.
Another bright spot for the U.S. beef industry has been the steady recovery of exports to Taiwan, which slumped in late 2011 and much of 2012 due to controversy over Taiwan's beta agonist policy. With more workable regulations now in place, exports to Taiwan posted their best-ever first-quarter performance with volume increasing 56% to 8,669 mt and value up 88% to $66.1 million.
Beef exports to the Middle East also recorded the best first quarter ever in terms of volume, increasing 10% to 39,018 mt. Export value ($75.7 million) slipped 4% due in part to the continued lack of access to Saudi Arabia, which closed to U.S. beef following the April 2012 BSE case.
As mentioned previously, red meat trade with Russia has been effectively shut down since early February. First quarter beef exports were down 87% in volume (1,858 mt) and 96% in value ($2.3 million). Exports to former No. 1 market Mexico continue to struggle, with first-quarter results down 27% in volume (40,668 mt) and 29% in value ($177.1 million). Mexico now ranks second in export volume to Canada and third in value behind Canada and Japan.