U.S. meat exports a mixed bag in January

by Erica Shaffer
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DENVER — January meat exports showed mixed results, due in part to a very sluggish market for variety meat, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Beef plus beef variety meat exports were 9% higher in volume and 6% higher in value than in January 2009, according to U.S.M.E.F. data. Beef muscle cuts rose 16% in volume and 15% in value. However, these totals represented a decline from December 2009 and were also lower than the 2009 monthly average. Beef variety meat exports declined 4% in volume but plummeted 26% in value compared to January 2009, according to the U.S.M.E.F.

“The good news is beef exports are off to a better start to 2010 than they were last year, when the economic climate was just brutal,” said Philip Seng, U.S.M.E.F. president and chief executive officer. “But in coming weeks, our focus is on reclaiming the momentum we had established late in the year with our holiday marketing campaigns and other beef promotions.”

January beef plus beef variety meat exports totaled 72,596 metric tons (160 million pounds) valued at just under $248 million. This compares to the 66,457 metric tons (146.5 million pounds) valued at $233 million exported in January 2009. However, volume was down 6% from December and 3% below the 2009 monthly average. Value declined 5% from December and 3% below the monthly 2009 average. Export value per steer and heifer slaughtered totaled just under $119, with exports accounting for 10% of beef plus beef variety meat production.

Variety meat also impacted figures for pork exports. Pork plus pork variety meat exports were 8% lower in both volume and value than in January 2009, according to the U.S.M.E.F. Muscle cuts fell only 4% in volume and 5% in value, while variety meat exports declined 18% in both categories, according to the federation.

January pork plus pork variety meat exports totaled 144,180 metric tons (317.9 million pounds) valued at just over $333 million. Exports were 8% lower in both volume and value than in January 2009, but were impacted heavily by a nearly 20% decline in variety meat exports, according to U.S.M.E.F. For muscle cuts only, exports declined 4% in volume and 5% in value. Exports accounted for 22% of total pork plus pork variety meat production (consistent with 2009), while export value per head slaughtered amounted to $37.37 — up about $.80 per head over 2009, U.S.M.E.F. said.

Exports to China and Russia remained well below 2009 as China remains closed from the H1N1-related ban imposed in mid-2009 and exports to Russia were heavily impacted by a lack of eligible U.S. plants, according to the federation. Notable progress was made with Russia after an agreement was reached on a new export certificate. Several U.S. plants have regained eligibility to export to Russia, and more are expected to receive approval in the near future, U.S.M.E.F said.

The most significant jolt to January’s results was the nearly one-third decline in exports to Japan, which is by far the largest value market for U.S. pork. Exports to Japan totaled 27,936 metric tons (61.6 million pounds) valued at $108 million. While these are still strong results, exports were down 34% in volume and 27% in value from the torrid pace of January 2009.

“The United States is still the market leader in Japan, and this market is still performing at a very high level,” Seng said. “But Japan had a notable increase in its domestic pork production in 2009, which created a backlog in its pork inventories and lowered domestic prices significantly. We are definitely feeling some impact from that, though we don’t expect that production trend to continue this year.

“U.S. pork is extremely well-positioned in Japan, with our chilled products gaining wide acceptance in both the retail and foodservice sectors,” he continued. “U.S. back ribs are also gaining traction in Japan, and our processed items and sausages are also performing very well. Despite taking a step back in January, our prospects remain bright in Japan.”

Mexico solidified its position as the largest volume market for U.S. pork plus pork variety meat, setting a new monthly record of 54,458 metric tons (120.1 million pounds) valued at $93.5 million. This represented an increase of 12% in volume and 27% in value over January 2009, and surpassed the previous record (from December 2009) by 5% in volume and 4% in value.

“The gains U.S. pork has achieved in Mexico are quite remarkable,” Seng said. “U.S.M.E.F. worked very hard to rebuild pork demand and consumer confidence during last year’s H1N1 crisis, and those efforts have really taken hold. Demand has not only recovered, but has actually risen to new heights.”

Seng said he is pleased at the progress made with Russia and anxious to restore access China, he said that markets in China and Russia are unlikely to immediately rebound to the record levels of 2008. Therefore, it will remain critical to the U.S. pork industry to develop other key markets in Asia and to build on the positive gains pork exports have achieved in Mexico and other Latin American nations.

“There is no question that Russia and China are still key targets for U.S. pork, and getting back into these markets is critically important,” he said. “But it’s also important to understand that these countries are determined to bolster their own production and to reduce their reliance on imported products.”

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