WASHINGTON – The US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) held its annual Spring Conference virtually last week, with the association touching on various agricultural sector topics.

Market diversification was the first discussion point of the conference by Pat Binger, who heads international sales for Cargill Protein North America and is USMEF chairman.

“The most recent export results – which are from March – provide a great illustration of this,” Binger said. “Our leading pork market – China – was down significantly, yet pork exports still set new volume and value records. The leading beef market – Japan – was also down, but beef exports set a new value record and beef muscle cut volume was the largest ever. We know there will always be twists and turns in our top markets, which makes diversification extremely important.”

Binger stated that USMEF saw potential growth in Southeast Asia, Central and South America and Africa. The association also said it committed more staff and resources to these regions in recent years.

Later in the conference, Dan Halstrom, president and chief executive officer for USMEF, updated members on COVID-19 related restrictions in key export markets and updated first-quarter market results.

Halstrom said 2021 promises to be an outstanding year for red meat exports but cautioned that the industry continues to face shipping delays and other logistical challenges.

“As optimistic as this report is, it could have been better,” he explained. “Port congestion, shortages of refrigerated containers, a shortage of chassis to move those containers, increasing freight rates and delays in ocean shipments continue to be a major constraint. Not only is this a constraint on shipments, but the United States may also run the risk of jeopardizing our longstanding reputation as a reliable global supplier of US beef and pork.”

USMEF also asked the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to conclude free trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom and Kenya, which the Trump administration launched. Halstrom noted that a US-Kenya FTA could serve to unleash much broader trade opportunities in Africa.

In another session related to US agriculture policy, Washington policy analyst Jim Wiesemeyer updated the Biden administration’s agricultural policies and proxies and the implications for trade. He highlighted the difficulties of the next phase of a possible economic trade agreement between the US and China. Wiesemeyer made similar comments regarding the US trade relationship with Japan and how further negotiations could be complicated unless the US joins the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The second day of the conference featured the USMEF Beef and Allied Industries Committee and Pork and Allied Industries Committee meetings. Members received updates on US beef marketing activities in China, Africa and the European Union. On the pork side, USMEF staff discussed emerging opportunities in Central America and Southeast Asia and provided an update on the competitive landscape in Japan. The Pork Committee meeting also included industry updates from the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council.

In the last session of the conference on May 27, Binger highlighted the importance of the USMEF’s historical leadership in serving the red meat industry in international markets. With a number of new challenges facing the industry over the past year, Binger said this experience is more important than ever for maintaining and defending the international customer base while working to identify new opportunities.

The next meeting of USMEF members is set for Nov. 10-12 in Carlsbad, Calif., where the 2021 USMEF Strategic Planning Conference will mark the federation’s 45th anniversary.