Despite the US raising its prices for beef and pork production, beef exports were up 18% year-on-year at US$693.1m, breaking the previous record set in October 2014, while export volume was 111,994 metric tons (mt), a 6% hike from a year ago.
Port export volumes were steady during March as value increased 4% to US$610.4 million (m) compared to last year. For the January-March quarter, volume increased 1% year-over-year to 636,297 mt, while value was up 8% to $1.7 billion.
Asian appeal for US beef
Sales to US beef’s leading market, Japan, were steady throughout March as value increased by 6% to $177.5m. However, for the first quarter, exports to Japan were down 3% in volume to 72,440 mt, but still increased 8% in value to $459.5m. This included a 6% increase in chilled beef to 35,290 mt, valued at $275m, a rise of 18%.
The only downfall was US frozen beef for Japan as March was the final month in which the higher safeguard tariff rate, from 38.5% to 50%, was applied to imports. The higher rate took effect in August and expired on 1 April at the beginning of the new Japanese fiscal year.
“While beef exports to Japan held up well during those eight months, the higher tariff rate certainly weighed on exports of frozen cuts, such as short plate,” said USMEF CEO Dan Halstrom.
“US short plate is an essential ingredient for Japan’s gyudon restaurants, which are part of a highly competitive fast-casual dining sector. We are pleased to have the higher safeguard tariff rate behind us, though US beef still faces a widening tariff rate gap in Japan compared to Australian beef, and US beef remains subject to Japan’s quarterly safeguard mechanisms for chilled and frozen imports.”
Other first-quarter international highlights for US beef included Taiwan, with USMEF reporting an increase in exports of 34% year-on-year in volume terms, while exports to China and Hong Kong climbed 34% in volume and 61% in value.
South Korea and Latin America pork boom
Demand for US pork in South Korea soared, with exports climbing 36% in volume and 47% in value from a year ago, due to the country’s rising pork consumption of home meal replacement items and convenience foods.
Strong growth in Colombia pushed exports to South America 22% higher than a year ago in volume and 24% in value. Exports to Chile dipped slightly in volume, but were still higher in value year-on year. Argentina officially opened to US pork in April, but shipments have not yet begun as exporters work through regulatory requirements.