US beef exports shatter records in May

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

Japan and South Korea were the main growth areas for US beef exports
Japan and South Korea were the main growth areas for US beef exports
US exports of beef broke all value records during May, thanks to increased interest from Asia, with volumes also increasing.

Beef export volume was 117,871 metric tons (mt) in May, the sixth-largest on record, valued at US$722.1 million (m), which surpassed the previous monthly high in March 2018 by 4% and was 24% higher than a year ago.

Japan and South Korea were the main growth areas for US beef exports in May.

Export volumes to Japan totalled 30,117 mt (up 19% from a year ago) valued at $196.8m, up 22%, and the highest since August 2017. Through May, exports to Japan were up 4% from a year ago in volume at 128,207 mt, while value increased 13% to $822.9m. This included a 6% increase in chilled beef volume to 61,178 mt, valued at $488m, up 18%.

Exports to South Korea were up 46% from a year ago in volume (20,781 mt) and rose 64% in value to a record $146.2m. For January through May, exports to Korea climbed 34% to 91,875 mt, valued at $647.3m – 49% above last year’s record pace. Chilled beef exports to Korea totalled 20,365 mt (up 30%) valued at $196m, up 41%.

US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) president and CEO Dan Halstrom said: “Despite the intense competition US beef faces in Japan and Korea, these markets continue to display a terrific appetite for a growing range of cuts. 

“Beef items that are traditionally popular in Asia continue to perform and other items more suitable for thick-cut steaks and barbecue concepts are gaining more traction, resulting in exceptional growth opportunities. But the enthusiasm for US beef extends well beyond these two leading markets, and that’s how exports have reached this record-breaking pace.”

Other areas of growth for US beef included: Mexico, where export volumes rose 4% and value rose 13% due to rising demand for rounds and shoulder clods; China and Hong Kong where volumes rose 20% and value grew 47%; and Taiwan where volume and value rose 31% and 43% respectively.

Pork dip

The pork category didn’t fare as well during the month. Export volume was 217,209 mt, down 2% from a year ago, while value was $562.5 million, down 3.5%. Mexico, traditionally one of the US’ best customers, saw a value drop of 11% although volumes were up 3% year-on-year. This was before June’s duties came into effect, so expect to see them fluctuate further.

The trade war between the US and China caused a massive year-on-year drop. Exports to the region dropped 31% in volume terms and 25% in value terms.

“It is unfortunate that US pork is caught in the crosshairs of a dispute that has nothing to do with the pork trade,”​ said Halstrom. “USMEF is focusing on the factors we can control by partnering with US packers and exporters to make every effort to defend our market share and protect our business in Mexico and China. USMEF also consistently stresses the importance of diversifying our export markets and expanding US pork’s footprint into emerging markets, and those efforts are more critical than ever.”

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