DENVER – US beef exports presented mixed results for the first quarter of 2012 — exports for the quarter rose 4 percent to $1.26 billion on 10 percent lower volumes or 266,388 metric tons, according to data compiled by the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef export values in March totaled $204.65 per fed steer and heifer slaughtered, which is a decline from the March 2011 total of $204.40. Exports accounted for 12 percent of total US production, including both muscle cuts and variety meat, and 9 percent for muscle cuts only. This compares to 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively in 2011.

Mexico remained the leading market for US beef (55,725 metric tons) and exports to Mexico managed a 5 percent increase in value to $250.9 million, despite a 13 percent decline in volume, according USMEF.
Chile led results from Central and South America with a 44 percent increase in volume (8,383 metric tons) and 94 percent increase in value ($32.5 million). USMEF said exports to Peru and Guatemala also posted impressive value growth.

Export volume to Canada was flat with last year at 36,834 metric tons, but advanced 15 percent in value at $215.4 million.

Exports retreated 7 percent in volume (29,695 metric tons) but gained 10 percent in value ($194 million) in Japan, where the Food Safety Commission continues to examine BSE-related age and product restrictions on US beef, according to USMEF. The US continues to gain market share, as Australia’s exports to Japan have fallen 14 percent in 2012.

Philip Seng, president and chief executive officer of USMEF said prospects for US beef remain positive despite a decline in export volume.

“We are, for the most part, encouraged by the response to the recent BSE case,” Seng said. “Nearly every trading partner followed established science and did not alter our level of market access.

“We remain hopeful that Japan will open to a wider range of products later this year and that access issues in other Asian markets will also be addressed,” he said. “Consumer demand for US beef is solid, but we need to eliminate trade barriers and maintain an active presence in these markets in the face of aggressive competition if we want to keep export value strong and get back to the record volume pace established in 2011.”

Exports to Russia reflected a shift toward higher-value muscle cuts, as volume increased 4 percent to 14,463 metric tons but volume surged 85 percent to $59.9 million. As with pork, US beef faces a more favorable access situation in Russia as the US tariff rate quota for muscle cuts was expanded from 41,700 metric tons in 2011 to 60,000 metric tons this year.

Egypt continued to post very strong results with exports increasing 12 percent in volume (31,466 metric tons) and 18 percent in value ($47.7 million) despite a slowdown in exports to Middle East markets. Exports to the Middle East region advanced slightly in volume (35,480 metric tons) and 10 percent in value ($78.9 million) propelled by Egypt’s numbers.

Market access issues continued to impact US beef exports to Taiwan which declined 18 percent in volume to 5,554 metric tons and 11 percent in value to $35.1 million. Controversy over ractopamine residue testing has made for a very unsteady business climate, according to USMEF.

US beef exports to Indonesia also declined on drastically lower import quotas. Volumes were down 86 percent to 601 metric tons and value declined 60 percent to $2.4 million. The results do not reflect Indonesia’s new market access restrictions imposed as a result of the BSE case announced in April, according to USMEF.

Year-over-year exports to Korea were also lower compared to a year-ago when a surge in export activity occurred in early 2011. First-quarter performance in Korea was fairly consistent with the second half of 2011. US beef has also continued to gain market share in Korea as Australia’s exports have declined by 37 percent.