WASHINGTON – March beef exports declined slightly compared to 2018, while pork exports continued to lag with ongoing trade disputes around the world, the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported.

March beef exports totaled 107,655 metric tons (mt), down 4 percent from the same period a year ago. Export value was $678 million, a 2 percent decrease. Exports of beef accounted for 13.6 percent of total production in March and 11 percent for muscle cuts only.

For the first quarter, beef exports totaled 307,306 mt, a 3 percent year-over-year decrease, valued at $1.9 billion, which represents a 0.8 percent decrease. From January to March, total production and muscle cuts only were 12.9 percent and 10.2 percent down from 13.2 percent and 10.7 percent in 2018.

Beef export value averaged $335.81 per head of fed cattle, up 1 percent year-over-year and the highest since December 2018. In the first quarter, beef export value averaged $309.32 per head, which is down 2 percent from a year ago.

Beef exports to Japan, a leading market for the US, were down slightly from 2018 from January to March, but still finished the first quarter up 2 percent in volume (74,440 mt) and increased 5 percent in value ($480.4 million). 

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

Beef exports to Mexico were steady with 2018 in volume at 57,591 mt and climbed 12 percent in value to $280.2 million. Mexico is the leading volume destination for US beef variety meat, including tripe, hearts, kidneys and livers. First-quarter muscle cut exports to Mexico increased 14 percent in volume (35,481 mt), they still achieved a 16 percent increase in value to $220.7 million.

Pork export volume declined in March as it moved to 211,688 mt, which is down 7 percent from a year ago. Pork export value also dipped 15 percent to $520.7 million. For the January through March quarter, volume decreased 6 percent year-over-year to 600,268 mt, while value was down 14 percent to $1.47 billion.

Pork exports accounted for 25.6 percent of the total pork production in March and 22.7 percent for muscle cuts only which is down from 27.5 percent and 23.5 percent in March 2018. First-quarter exports followed a similar pattern, accounting for 24.4 percent of total production (down from 26.6 percent a year ago) and 21.3 percent for muscle cuts only (down from 23 percent).  

March pork exports to Mexico, the leading volume destination, were below last year’s level in the the first quarter, exports were down 13 percent from last year’s pace in volume (177,420 mt) and sank 29 percent in value at $261.9 million. 

Since May 2018, a 20 percent retaliatory tariffs on US pork has been in effect in Mexico in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. This turn of events ended six consecutive years of record export volumes to Mexico, and early 2019 is showing no signs of shifting.

January through March, exports to Japan were 9 percent lower in volume at 92,503 mt and decreased 11 percent in value to $374.9 million.

Demand for pork might swing up soon in China and Hong Kong due to the African swine fever (ASF) as buyers look toward a pork shortage. However, China’s retaliatory duties to ongoing trade disputes are making it difficult for the US industry. The duty rate on US pork is 62 percent, compared to 12 percent for other suppliers. Through March, exports to China/Hong Kong were down 20 percent from a year ago to 89,689 mt, with value dropping 34 percent to $172.1 million.

“The current environment for US pork is a good illustration of why it has been such a high priority for the US industry to develop a wider range of international destinations,” Halstrom said. “Though we absolutely must get back on a level playing field in Mexico, China and Japan, larger exports to emerging markets have offset some of the decline.”

Lamb exports increased 68 percent in March as volume was 4,173 mt, which is up 29 percent over 2018. The export value was down percent from last year, however, from January through March exports climbed 15 percent in volume at 659 mt and 19 percent in value accounting for $5.4 million.