DENVER — U.S. pork and beef exports achieved a solid performance in March. Extremely strong pork sales to Mexico and a surge in beef exports to Vietnam, Japan and the Middle East led the pace, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Pork plus pork variety meat exports increased 16% in volume and 17% in value over March 2008. Pork exports increased by 8% in volume to 489,348 metric tons (1.08 billion lbs.) and by 10% in value to $1.12 billion compared to the first quarter of 2008. More than 23% of first quarter pork and variety meat production was exported.

March beef plus beef variety meat exports increased 5% in volume over March 2008, but declined by about 1% in value. This was due primarily to a 17% decline in variety meat export value, offsetting a 4% increase in muscle-cut value. Beef exports increased in the first quarter 3% in volume to 203,475 metric tons (448.6 million lbs.) and by 1% in value to $690.9 million. Exports accounted for 9.5% of beef and variety meat production in the first quarter.

In March, total U.S. pork exports to Mexico (45,741 metric tons or 100.8 million lbs.) nearly doubled in volume from a year ago and increased 76% in value to $65.2 million. For the first quarter of 2009, exports to Mexico increased 74% in volume (136,898 metric tons or 301.8 million lbs.) and by 66% in value to $204.7 million.

Japan continues to be the mainstay value market for U.S. pork, with first quarter exports rising 13% in volume to 119,445 metric tons (263.3 million lbs.) and by 26% in value to $424 million. March results reflected a slowdown, however, as pork exports rose just 1% in value over a year ago while slipping by 3.5% in volume.

U.S.M.E.F. relays reduced first-quarter beef exports to both Mexico (down 21% in volume and value) and Canada (down 13% in volume and 20% in value) have placed increased pressure on other international markets in maintaining growth for U.S. beef. Some have responded remarkably well, however, including the ASEAN region, Japan and the Middle East.

Beef exports to the ASEAN region increased 68% in volume in the first quarter to 19,645 metric tons (43.3 million lbs.) and doubled in value to $64 million. Vietnam led this charge, recording a 93% increase in volume and a jump in value of 146%.

March beef exports to Japan climbed 58%in volume and 53% in value over last year, leading to increases for the first quarter of 32% and 29%, respectively. The additional surge in March was due in part to the availability of more cattle eligible for export to this market under the 20-month age restriction — an advantage that will continue through the summer months.