WASHINGTON – New US beef export records were established in 2018, while pork continued to fall behind goals, according to the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Thanks to growing demand in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the ASEAN region, exports of beef advanced 7 percent in volume to 1.35 million metric tons (mt), up 7 percent from 2017 and exceeded the previous 2011 record by 5 percent. Export value increased to $8.33 billion, breaking the 2017 record by $1.06 billion and a 15 percent increase from last year. In the December numbers, beef export volume was slightly down from the prior year, to 112,777 mt, but value still increased 4 percent to $700.2 million. 

US exports in 2018 accounted for 13.5 percent of total beef production and 11.1 percent for muscle cuts, which is up from 12.9 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, from the year before.

Beef broke another record in export value per head of fed slaughter by averaging $323.14 which was a 13 percent increase over 2018 and exceeded the 2014 record by 8 percent.

The largest market of growth for the year was South Korea where US export volume increased 30 percent from 2017 to 239,676 mt and jumped 43 percent in value to $1.75 billion. That is an increase of $526 million over the previous record set in 2017.

“There may have been no greater ag trade success story in 2018 than US beef exports to Korea,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “Less than a decade removed from street protests opposing the reopening of this market, Koreans now consume more US beef per capita than any international destination. This is a testament to the US beef industry’s strong commitment to the Korean market and the outstanding support received from the US government – through both USDA promotional funding and the negotiation of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which has dramatically lowered import duties on US beef.”

Pork export volume reached a record 2.44 million mt in 2018, which was 0.5 percent below the 2017 record, according to USMEF. Export value went down 1 percent from a year ago to $6.39 billion and was the third-highest total on record.

For December, pork exports totaled 209,780 mt, a 5 percent year-over-year decrease, valued at $527.4 million, which represents a 11 percent decrease.

In 2018, exports accounted for 25.7 percent of total pork production, which was down one percentage point from 2017. Muscle cuts only went up to 22.5 percent from 22.3 percent from a year ago. Export value per head slaughtered averaged $51.37 in 2018, down 4 percent from the previous year.

Before May, results for pork were holding strong in the US’ leading market of Mexico, but retaliatory tariffs on US pork went into effect in June in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Export volume to Mexico held up relatively well, finishing the year at 777,143 mt – 3 percent below the 2017 record.

However, export value took a big hit, declining 13 percent to $1.31 billion – the lowest since 2015. The decline in value from June through December was 24 percent, totaling $218 million, showing the large degree to which US producers and exporters bore the cost of Mexico’s 20 percent retaliatory duty.

“The US pork industry understands the vital importance of the Mexican market, and with strong industry support USMEF has intensified its efforts to retain as much of this business as possible,” Halstrom said. “This includes enhanced outreach in every sector, from large processors, to regional supermarkets, to specialty retailers and restaurant chains. While these efforts have been successful, the decline in export value clearly shows the negative impact these retaliatory duties have imposed on the US pork supply chain.”

Exports of US lamb in 2019 climbed 77 percent to 12,866mt, the largest since 2012. Export value also increased 19 percent to $23.4 million, the highest since 2014.