WASHINGTON – US beef and pork export volumes declined in early 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the US Department of Agriculture, but officials from the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) said the slow start in January doesn’t overshadow the optimistic outlook for 2021. Strong retail sector demand is expected to continue while COVID-19 vaccination availability increases in global markets where US red meat consumption is consistently high. Meanwhile, foodservice sector rebounds are also forecast to continue in more regions during 2021, which should serve as a tailwind to US export recovery, said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and chief executive officer.
"But transportation challenges are currently a dominant concern, particularly the congestion and container shortages at our West Coast ports where shorthanded crews are handling record-large cargo volumes,” Halstrom said. “Labor is also at a premium in processing plants, which affects the industry's ability to fully capitalize on demand for certain labor-intensive cuts and variety meat items.”
Pork exports from the United States in January were 248,656 tonnes, a decrease of 9% from the same period last year, with value dipping 13% to $642.8 million. US beef exports decreased 2% to 105,047 tonnes in January 2021 compared to last year as did value, which dropped 3% to $653 million. According to the USMEF, the beef decline was the result of a decrease in beef variety shipments.
While overall export volume and value for US red meat got of to a slow start in the new year, one bright spot was South Korea, where volume jumped 20% to 21,355 tonnes in January 2021 compared to last year, while value topped $158.7 million, an increase of 22% over the previous January.
In terms of volume, Japan remained the leader in US beef shipments, at 22,018 tonnes in January, although that represented a decline of 13% from last year. Value also declined 13% to $138.1 million. Pork exports to Japan increased to 32,332 tonnes with value of more than 134.6 million.
Beef demand in China benefitted US exporters in January, with volume spiking 800% to 7,862 tonnes and value of more than $58 million. Australia, which was previously China’s biggest supplier of grain-fed beef, saw the United States overtake its position in September 2020, and in January the country saw its grain-fed exports of beef to China fall 49% to 3,345 tonnes. Meanwhile, pork volume to China was strong despite the retaliatory duty of 25% on US shipments. For January, volume totaled 24,475 tonnes, an 18% increase over last year.
Another highlight for pork in January was in volume of pork shipments to Central America, which continued its 2020 momentum with volume of 11,023 tonnes (up 56% for the month) and value of nearly $27 million (up 43%).
Halstrom said demand is not an imminent threat to US red meat exports in the coming year, but other challenges loom.
“Although the global foodservice sector still has a long recovery ahead, international demand for U.S. red meat remains impressive and resilient,” Halstrom said. “But a range of logistical challenges must be overcome in order to fully satisfy this demand.”
“Although the global foodservice sector still has a long recovery ahead, international demand for US red meat remains impressive and resilient,” Halstrom added. “But a range of logistical challenges must be overcome in order to fully satisfy this demand.”