Despite a continued slump in U.S. red meat export volume and a further dip in August sales, the value of beef and pork exports for the first eight months of the year remained slightly ahead of 2011’s record-setting pace, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

U.S. beef exports in August were the second-largest of the year at 100,468 metric tons, but this was still 14% below the August 2011 volume. In value, August exports totaled $486.2 million. While 5% lower than a year ago, it was also the second-highest monthly total of 2012. For metric conversion, one metric ton equals 2,204.622 lb.

For January through August, beef exports were 11% lower than a year ago in volume (759,901 metric tons) but still 2% above last year’s record value pace at $3.66 billion.

U.S. pork exports in August were down 6% in volume (175,310 metric tons) and 7% in value ($495.5 million) compared to a year ago, but these totals were up 10% and 6%, respectively, from the previous month’s performance. Through the first eight months of the year, 2012 pork exports were up 2% in volume (1.474 million metric tons) and 8% in value ($4.13 billion) from last year’s record levels.

“We face a challenging business climate in several key markets, with rising production costs and slowing economic growth creating some anxiety among buyers,” says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “We’re also seeing a surge in domestic meat supplies in some areas, particularly in South Korea. But the commitment to enhancing global demand for U.S. beef and pork remains very strong, as evidenced by the terrific support of our producer organizations. These are the circumstances in which effective global marketing takes on an even greater level of importance, as producers need to maximize the value of every cut and every carcass.”

For pork, exports through August accounted for 23.7% of muscle cut production and 27% when including variety meats, compared to 22.8% and 27.3% in 2011. Export value averaged $56.51/head slaughtered, up from last year’s $53.54 during the first eight months of the year.

While beef exports to Mexico struggle, pork exports continue to perform well – with January-August volume (391,932 metric tons) increasing 14% and value ($727.2 million) up 11% from a year ago. August exports were up 16% in volume to 51,841 metric tons and 9% in value to $101.4 million.

“Mexico’s meat processing sector is an outstanding customer for U.S. pork, but USMEF has also made considerable strides in building retail demand,” Seng says. “This has made Mexico an attractive destination for a wider variety of pork cuts, which has really enhanced our export value.”

Pork exports to Japan had slowed during the early summer, but rebounded in August to post the highest volume since February at 39,689 metric tons (valued at $169.9 million). Through August, exports to Japan were down 6% in volume (307,442 metric tons), but were 6% above last year’s record value pace at $1.34 billion.

While pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region were higher through August (+11 percent to 282,637 metric tons and +35 percent to $569.4 million), they are not likely to match last year’s pace in coming months. This is not due to poor market performance, but simply reflects the surge in export activity in late 2011, when China’s domestic pork supplies were slumping and pork prices reached record levels. For August, exports to China/Hong Kong were down 31% in volume to 30,450 metric tons and 34% in value to $60.5 million.

In other pork market highlights for January through August:  

  • Exports to Canada were up 15% in volume (150,583 metric tons) and up 18% in value ($549 million).
  • Led by an exceptional performance in Colombia, exports to Central and South America were 18% higher in volume (53,206 metric tons) and up 19% in value ($134.1 million).
  • Exports to Russia were 30% higher in volume (63,699 metric tons) and 22% higher in value ($182.9 million). Since Russia’s World Trade Organization accession was completed in August, in-quota exports now enter at zero duty, rather than the previous 15%.  
  • While exports to the Oceania region were roughly steady with last year, exports to New Zealand were up one-third in volume (5,853 metric tons) and 30% in value ($17.7 million).