WASHINGTON – US exports of pork to China/Hong Kong posted the best month on record in November 2019 without a formal trade agreement between Washington and Beijing.

Pork exports surged 26 percent to 259,812 metric tons (mt) for November and 11 percent above the previous high recorded in July of 2019, according to US Dept. of Agriculture data compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Export value jumped 32 percent to $712.7 million, breaking the previous record by 14 percent.

The impact of African Swine Fever has pushed China to increase imports of pork to meet consumer demand. As a result, US exports of pork to China/Hong Kong ramped up despite high tariffs on products imported by China. As a result, according to USMEF, January through November exports climbed 7 percent above the previous year’s pace in volume (2.39 million mt) and 6 percent higher in value ($6.19 billion). Pork exports are now on pace to exceed previous records for both volume (2.45 million mt in 2017) and value ($6.65 billion in 2014).

Demand from China/Hong Kong continued to drive growth in US pork exports in November, with volume climbing to 86,213 mt — up 284 percent compared to a year ago — valued at $204.9 million (up 240 percent). For January through November, exports to the region were up 71 percent to 554,789 mt, valued at $1.18 billion, an increase of 49 percent.

But while the surge in pork shipments to China is certainly a highlight for the industry, there’s more to the story of US red meat exports, Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, noted.

“Getting exports to Mexico back to the record levels of 2017 and early 2018 is a top priority for the US pork industry because demand from Mexico is such an important driver of profitability for everyone in the supply chain,” Halstrom said. “The same is true in Japan, so it’s very important to reclaim lost share in these longtime mainstay markets.”

And the US pork industry has seen some progress on reclaiming market share in those key markets. Export value surged 28 percent to $124.3 million, the highest since July, for pork sent to Mexico despite a 6 percent decline in export volume which, at 57,537 mt, was lower than a year ago.

Exports to Mexico for January through November dropped 11 percent from a year ago in volume (641,952 mt) and 6 percent lower in value $1.14 billion. USMEF cited competition from Canadian pork producers that was especially strong in the Mexican market while Canada was suspended from exporting pork to China in late June to early November after a shipment tested positive for ractopamine. From January through November, Canada’s exports to Mexico increased 8 percent from a year ago to 128,100 mt, valued at $185 million (up 14 percent), according to USMEF.

Exports of US pork to Japan also trailed the previous year by 3 percent at 32,594 mt, while value slipped 1 percent to $136.5 million. Exports to Japan were eased 6 percent from a year ago in volume (340,568 mt) and 7 percent in value ($1.4 billion) during the first 11 months of 2019, USMEF reported. Japanese import data show imports of US pork dropped by $121 million with much of the decline being in ground seasoned pork, which fell by $73 million due to tariffs, USMEF explained.

But the good news heading into 2020 is that beginning Jan. 1, Japan’s tariff rates on US pork and pork products were lowered to match those imposed on European, Canadian and Mexican pork, USMEF noted, which eliminates a significant price disadvantage for the US. The rate for US ground seasoned pork fell to 13.3 percent from 20 percent.

November exports accounted for 29.7 percent of total pork production and 26.8 percent for muscle cuts only, up 24.5 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from a year ago. For January through November, exports accounted for 26.4 percent of total pork production and 23 percent for muscle cuts, up from 22.4 percent and 25.7 percent, respectively, a year ago.

Beef exports last year lagged 2018 totals. November exports declined 4 percent to total 108,662 mt, while value declined 7 percent for a total of $658.1 million. For the first 11 months of 2019, beef exports trailed the record pace set in 2018 by 3 percent in both volume (1.21 million mt) and value ($7.4 billion). But 2019 already is the second-highest year for beef export value, trailing only 2018’s record of $8.33 billion.

And beef exports to Taiwan will set a record for the fourth consecutive year, USMEF added. Exports for November 2019 were 4,869 mt, up 8 percent compared to 2018, and valued at $43 million, an increase of 7 percent.

Exports of beef to South Korea declined in volume (19,116 mt, down 5 percent) and value ($139 million, down 11 percent). However, the market remained on pace to break the 2018 records, USMEF reported. Through November, exports to Korea were up 6 percent in both volume (234,310 mt) and value ($1.69 billion). US share of Korea’s chilled beef imports reached 62 percent, up from 58 percent in 2018. US beef accounted for 51 percent of Korea's total beef and beef variety meat imports and more than one-third of Korea’s total beef consumption.

Meanwhile, gains in Taiwan and South Korea were offset by declines in beef exports to Japan which trailed the previous year by 3 percent at 32,594 mt, while value was down 1 percent to $136.5 million. Through the first 11 months of 2019, exports to Japan declined 6 percent compared to 2018 in volume (340,568 mt) and 7 percent lower in value ($1.4 billion).

“The Japanese market performed extremely well for US beef in 2018, even though we were already facing a tariff rate disadvantage versus Australia,” Halstrom explained. “More competitors saw tariff rate cuts in 2019 under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which further tilted the playing field against US beef. For example, Canada’s beef exports to Japan increased 57 percent last year. So, the rate cuts Japan recently implemented for US beef are long overdue, and USMEF is working aggressively with US exporters and the Japanese trade to capitalize.”

November exports of US lamb were 1,253 mt, down 10 percent from a year ago, while value also dipped 10 percent to $2.19 million. Through the first 11 months of 2019, lamb exports remained well ahead of the previous year's pace in volume (14,507 mt, up 23 percent) and value ($23.7 million, up 11 percent). Led by strong demand in Mexico, lamb export volume is the largest since 2011 and export value is set to exceed $25 million for the first time since 2014. In addition to Mexico, growth markets in 2019 included Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Guatemala and the Philippines.