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First Quarter Beef, Pork Exports Below 2018 Pace; Lamb Up
USAgNet - 05/15/2019

For the first quarter of 2019, U.S. beef exports were slightly below last year’s record pace while pork exports continued to be slowed by trade barriers, according to March data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. U.S. lamb exports were a first quarter bright spot, trending significantly higher than a year ago.

March beef exports totaled 107,655 metric tons (mt), down 4% year-over-year, while value fell 2% to $678 million. For the first quarter, exports were down 3% at 307,306 mt valued at $1.9 billion (down 0.8%).

March beef exports were very strong on a per-head basis, with export value per head of fed slaughter averaging $335.81 – up 1% from a year ago and the highest since December. The first quarter average was $309.32/head, down 2% from a year ago. March exports accounted for 13.6% of total U.S. beef production and 11% for muscle cuts only, which was fairly steady with last March. For the first quarter these ratios were 12.9% and 10.2%, down from 13.2% and 10.7%, respectively, a year ago.

Pork exports totaled 211,688 mt in March, down 7% from a year ago, valued at $520.7 million (down 15%). First quarter exports were 6% below last year’s pace in volume (600,268 mt) and down 14% in value ($1.47 billion).

Pork export value averaged $48.55 per head slaughtered in March, down 15% from a year ago. For January through March, export value averaged $46.15 per head, down 16% from the first quarter of 2018. March exports accounted for 25.6% of total U.S. pork production and 22.7% for muscle cuts only – down from 27.5% and 23.5%, respectively in March 2018. First quarter exports accounted for 24.4% of total pork production (down from 26.6%) and 21.3% for muscle cuts (down from 23%).

South Korea continues to be the growth leader for U.S. beef exports, with first quarter volume climbing 8% year-over-year to 56,173 mt, while value ($414.2 million) was 13% above last year’s record-shattering pace. U.S. beef has achieved remarkable success in Korea’s traditional retail and restaurant sectors but is also rapidly gaining popularity in outlets such as convenience stores and e-commerce platforms. Recent export growth is not only in the ever-popular short rib category, but also in short plate, briskets, clods and rounds, as end-users recognize the versatility and affordability of high-quality U.S. beef.

Beef exports to Japan were moderately lower than a year ago in March, but still finished the first quarter 2% above last year’s pace in volume (74,147 mt) and 5% higher in value ($480.4 million). This was fueled by growth in variety meat exports, with the U.S. shipping more tongues and skirt meat to Japan. U.S. beef faces a widening tariff disadvantage in Japan compared to imports from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico, and the latest tariff reduction for these countries didn’t take effect until April 1.

“U.S. beef cuts are still subject to a 38.5% tariff in Japan while our competitors’ rate is nearly one-third lower at 26.6%,” explained Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “This really underscores the urgency of the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, which must progress quickly if we are going to continue to have success in the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork.”

Japan’s tariffs on beef variety meat are lower, but U.S. shipments are subject to a duty of 12.8% while competitors pay less than half that rate.

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