WASHINGTON – April continued to build on the momentum from early in 2021 as US red meat values and volumes trended higher. US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) leaders said the improvements seen in the first four months of 2021 are a sharp contrast to the instability in most markets this past year.  

"Looking back at April 2020, it was a difficult month for red meat exports as we began to see COVID-related supply chain interruptions and foodservice demand took a major hit in many key markets," said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and chief executive officer. "While it is no surprise that exports performed much better in April 2021, we are pleased to see that global demand continued to build on the broad-based growth achieved in March."

With conditions shifting favorably for exporting companies in the United States, Halstrom said the COVID-19 pandemic is still a concern for the US meat export industry with business climates in certain export locations remaining uncertain. Logistical challenges, including container shortages and ongoing vessel congestion at many US ports, also present significant obstacles for red meat exports.

"While conditions are improving in many key markets, the COVID impact is the most intense it has ever been in Taiwan and heightened countermeasures are also in place in Japan and other Asian countries," he explained. "But foodservice activity is climbing back in our Latin American markets and retail demand – both in traditional settings and in e-commerce – has been outstanding and USMEF continues to find innovative ways for the US industry to capitalize on these opportunities.”

Based on US Department of Agriculture data collected by USMEF, beef export value once again set another record at $808.3 million for the month, 35% higher than last year. 

Beef volume increased 23% in April, at 121,050 tonnes, while exports of beef muscle cuts were the third largest ever, at 94,956 tonnes (up 21% from 2020) and value, at $726.7 million, a new record (an increase of 36%).

Quarterly beef exports moved up 5% to 454,398 tonnes at a value of $2.93 billion. Quarterly exports of beef muscle cuts ticked up 8% to 357,570 tonnes and value increased 12% to $2.63 billion.

Meanwhile, US pork export value for April was up 10% over last year at $749.2 million as volume also ticked up to 269,918 tonnes (up 2% from last year). Muscle cuts of pork were on a similar track with a 3% increase in volume (224,179 tonnes) and 10% in value ($641.7 million).

Shipments of beef to South Korea increased 21% from 2020 to 23,482 tonnes and narrowly missed a new value record at $182.7 million. Through April, value totaled $686.7 million and volume topped 92,478 tonnes.

Beef exports to China continued to increase in April and reached 17,233 tonnes, up from 1,367 tonnes a year ago. Export value to China was $130.6 million – up from $11.5 million.

A leading export location for beef, Japan was down more than usual due to a safeguard tariff, which was in effect from mid-March to mid-April. Throughout that month, US beef cuts entering Japan were tariffed at 38.5%, well above the rates imposed on major competitors. 

The rate for US beef dropped to 25% in Japan on April 17, which is level with other major suppliers. US trade officials are in consultations with their Japanese counterparts on the safeguard threshold, which USMEF expects to be exceeded every year unless it is increased.  

For April, pork exports to Mexico grew at the largest rate of 2021 to 67,365 as volume increased 58%. Value more than doubled in $143.4 million, up 126% from 2020. Through April, shipments to Mexico were 7% ahead of last year’s pace at 254,377 tonnes, with value up 18% to $488.5 million. 

Following strong numbers in March, pork exports to Japan in April slowed to 32,948 tonnes, down 19% from last year. Export value also decreased 17% to $135.7 million.

Pork exports from the United States to Central America continued a record pace Q1 2021 with a 49% increase in volume of just under 46,837 tonnes and a value of $119.4 million. 

April exports of US lamb totaled 1,088 tonnes, up 38% from a year ago, with value up 57% to $1.35 million. Through April, lamb exports were 57% above last year's pace at 4,356 tonnes, valued at $5.6 million (up 6%).