WASHINGTON – April exports of US beef and pork were slightly higher compared to March, but lagged behind figures for 2012, according to the US Meat Export Federation.

April beef export volume declined 9 percent to 86,433 metric tons (mt), while export value was down 7 percent to $434.8 million. For January through April, beef exports climbed 2 percent higher in value ($1.75 billion) despite a 5 percent decline in volume (343,020 mt).

Japan regained its ranking as the No. 1 market for US beef exports, USMEF said. Levels of beef exports to Japan jumped 49 percent in volume and 44 percent in value compared to the first four months of 2012. However, Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO, cautioned that Japan has a safeguard in place that will increase tariffs if beef import volumes rise too quickly.

Still, Hong Kong maintained its rapid growth pace and exports to Taiwan continued to rebound from beta agonist-related issues that slowed exports in 2012, USMEF reported.

On the pork side, Mexico showed double-digit growth in April while Central/South America, the ASEAN region and the Caribbean all grew 30 percent or more during the month, according to USMEF. April pork exports totaled declined 5 percent in volume to 174,073 mt and 7 percent in value to $475.1 million compared to a year ago. Through the first four months of 2013, pork exports lagged behind 2012 levels by 10 percent in both volume (702,268 mt) and value ($1.96 billion).

Russia’s ban on US beef and pork has hampered overall performance, according to USMEF. The ban has cost the US meat industry an estimated $97 million in beef export value and $58 million in pork export value so far in 2013, USMEF reported.

“Along with our lack of access to sell beef in mainland China, this is the biggest barrier we face in terms of market access,” Seng said. “One often overlooked factor is the effect this suspension has on the price US products command in markets other than Russia. For example, beef livers to Egypt have increased in volume, but the value is down. There is also downward pressure on the prices offered for rounds, hams and pork for further processing. The impact is much broader than many analysts realize at first glance.”

US lamb sales saw sharp increases to leading export markets, especially Mexico, according to USMEF. January-April exports of US lamb climbed 3 percent in volume (4,368 mt) and 22 percent in value ($10 million) compared to a year ago, led by strong results in Mexico. Exports to Mexico increased only slightly in volume (3,192 mt) but jumped in value with a 32 percent gain to $5.4 million.

Strong performance in Canada and the Middle East boosted global exports of lamb variety meat, a key contributor to carcass value. Lamb variety meat increased 18 percent in volume (3,025 mt) and 35 percent in value ($3.9 million), according to USMEF.