WASHINGTON – While unable to keep pace with the record-setting rate established before the COVID-19 pandemic became a global crisis in 2020, exports of US beef and pork were in line with expectations of the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) for the month of February. Official forecasts for beef exports project exports to rebound and reflect significant increases for the year, and pork exports are expected to inch past the record year established in 2020.

In February, pork exports decreased in volume by 12% compared to 2020 (approximately 239,000 tonnes) and dipped in value by 13% to $629.4 million, according to US Department of Agriculture data compiled by the USMEF. For the first two months of the year, pork exports lagged last year’s volume by 11% (about 488,000 tonnes) at values that were down 13%, at $1.27 billion. Muscle cut exports of US pork were similarly lower in volume at about 411,800 tonnes (down 11%) and value, at $1.1 billion (down 14%) compared to 2020.

US Pork exports to China/Hong Kong fell 25% compared to last year, to about 147,000 tonnes valued at almost $330 million (a decline of 32%). While China continues to work to rebuild its swine herd after being decimated by African swine fever over the past two years, domestic production still lags and several new outbreaks have been reported. China/Hong Kong continues to be the largest destination for US Pork.

Meanwhile, beef exports, which totaled approximately 103,500 tonnes in February, reflected an 8% decline from last year and a decrease of 2% in value to $669.5 million. This dip continued a downward trend for 2020, which is 5% lower than the pace of 2020 at 208,500 tonnes and value that slipped 2% to $1.32 billion. Muscle cuts of beef were down 1% to approximately 164,000 tonnes while value was flat at $1.18 billion.

Beef exports to China, now the fourth-largest destination for US beef, continued to rally in February, exceeding the same month a year ago at volumes of 8,644 tonnes and valued at $66 million.

“Beef exports to China already exceed the full-year totals reached in 2019, prior to the United States securing expanded beef access through the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement,” according to the USMEF.

Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and chief executive officer, is optimistic about the growing demand for US red meat exports in the wake of the pandemic.

Export demand for US red meat remains strong in the face of logistical hiccups and hurdles persisting that are related to the pandemic. Solid international demand and continued healthy domestic business in the United States combined to create stronger cutout values in the first quarter, which were up an average of 27% year-over-year for pork and 4% for Choice beef.

“While February exports were in line with expectations, the results don’t fully reflect global demand for US red meat,” Halstrom said. “Logistical challenges, including congestion at some US ports, are still a significant headwind and tight labor supplies at the plant level continue to impact export volumes for certain products – including some variety meat items and labor-intensive muscle cuts.” ​

With limited crews at US shipping ports previously limiting shipments during the height of the pandemic, Halstrom said the availability of labor is slowly improving.

“USMEF greatly appreciates the members of Congress and ag industry representatives who have worked to bring more attention to this situation, and the efforts of maritime regulators to address shipping practices,” he said. ​