WASHINGTON – For the first time in 2020, data released by the US Dept. of Agriculture and complied by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) showed that US pork exports in June fell below year-ago levels. However, exports remain on a record pace for the rest of the year.

Beef export numbers went down sharply from June 2019 as the temporary slowdown of beef production due to coronavirus and restrictions on foodservice have weakened economics for major import markets for US producers.

“We expected that the interruptions in red meat production would continue to weigh on June exports, but anticipated more of a rebound from the low May totals – particularly for beef,” said Dan Halstrom USMEF president and chief executive officer. “But it takes time for the entire chain to adjust to supply shocks, and thus it was another difficult month for exports. However, weekly US export data suggest an upward trend in demand in most markets, and with production recovering the US has regained its supply advantage. So, we expect beef and pork exports to regain momentum in the second half of the year.”

Pork exports were down 3% to 207,181 tonnes for June. Pork value fell 9% to $516.3 million. For the first six months of the year, pork exports remain on a record pace up 24% in volume to 1.55 million tonnes and 29% in value with $4.05 billion.

USMEF said exports to China/Hong Kong continued to trend higher than 2019 but were the lowest since October. Exports also increased to the ASEAN region, the Caribbean, Honduras and Taiwan and were sharply higher for Albania and Ukraine. But shipments trended lower to Mexico, Japan, South Korea and South America.

Pork exports accounted for just under 24% of total June pork production and 22.2% for muscle cuts only. Both numbers are down from a year ago at 27.8% and 24%, respectively. Through June, the percentage of total pork production exported was up to 31.5% and 28.6% for muscle cuts only, which are up from the 2019 figures.

After high numbers in April and May, pork export value per heard declines to a record $46.19 in June, down 19% from a year ago. Through the first six months, the per-head average was up 27% to $63.61.

US June, beef numbers were close to the lows seen in the May reports. 

Beef exports for June decreased 33% from 2019 to 79,013 tonnes. Export value also fell by 32% to $492.3 million. During the last six months, beef exports showed a 9% volume decrease compared to 2019 at 591,609 tonnes and 10% less in value at $3.63 billion.

June beef exports accounted for 9.7% of total production and 8% for beef muscle cuts, down from 15.4% and 12.7% in 2019 which is the lowest seen in 10 years. Beef exports made up 13.3% of total sixth-month beef production and 10.9% for muscle cuts only. Both are up from 14.2% and 11.6% from 2019.

Most markets showed lower levels of beef exports but trended higher in Canada, China and South Africa.

USMEF said China and Hong Kong continued to bolster pork export growth in June. Exports for the month reached 77,883 tonnes, up 55% from a year ago, valued at $168.3 million (up 65%). Through June, exports to China and Hong Kong continued on a strong pace at 604,156 tonnes (up 170%), valued at $1.42 billion (up $232%).

“With China’s pork industry still dealing with the impact of African swine fever (ASF), we expect demand from China/Hong Kong to remain strong through the end of this year and into 2021,” Halstrom said. “But the unprecedented volumes of imported pork entering China – not only from the US but other suppliers as well – will begin to moderate. This underscores the importance of maintaining strong demand in other key markets and continuing to develop new destinations for US pork.”

In Mexico, March pork exports slowed down to 19% to 48,658 tonnes with value decreasing 41% to $70.6 million.

For beef exports, Japan rebounded from May but volumes were still down 30% compared to last year, at 20,743 tonnes. It also decreased 20% in value to $143.7 million.

Through the first six months, exports decreased by 2% in volume (154,881 tonnes) and 2% in value ($985.5 million).

Beef in South Korea was down 8% in six-month volume at 116,724 tonnes. Value was $828.3 million.

June lamb exports were higher for the first time in 2020, reaching 2,289 tonnes, a 113% increase in volume. Value was 29% higher at ($2.23 million).