U.S. beef exports set another new value record in July, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). July export value climbed 45% from a year ago to $939.1 million, while volume was the third largest of the post-BSE era at 122,743 metric tons (mt), up 14% year-over-year.
July beef exports to the mainstay Asian markets of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were relatively steady with last year, but at significantly higher value. USMEF said Japan was the pacesetter in both volume (28,549 mt, steady) and value ($225.3 million, up 21%) as retail demand offset ongoing restrictions in the restaurant sector. Through July, Japan was the leading volume destination for U.S. beef (184,836 mt, up 1% from a year ago) and a close second to Korea in value ($1.27 billion, up 9%).
Meanwhile, export volume growth was driven by record-large shipments to China and a strong rebound in Western Hemisphere markets compared to year-ago totals.
According to USMEF, beef exports to China continued to post impressive growth, with July shipments reaching a record 18,021 mt, valued at $150.5 million. Through July, exports to China were up about 1,000% from a year ago in both volume (99,022 mt) and value ($773 million). U.S. beef accounted for 5% of China’s total imports, and the U.S. is now the primary supplier of grain-fed beef to China, USMEF added. And although beef exports to Hong Kong have trended lower in 2021, shipments to the China/Hong Kong region more than doubled from a year ago to 128,748 mt (up 137%) valued at $1.05 billion (up 139%).
For January through July, U.S. beef exports increased 18% from a year ago to 822,830 mt, with value up 30% to $5.58 billion. Compared to the pace established in 2018, the record year for U.S. beef exports, shipments were up 6% in volume and 17% in value.
Pork exports in July were steady with last year at 221,809 mt, but export value jumped 20% to $657.3 million. Pork variety meat exports were especially strong at 49,092 mt, up 54% from the low total posted a year ago and 16% above July 2019. Variety meat export value was the second highest on record at $116.7 million, up 69% from a year ago and 39% above 2019.
July pork exports were driven mainly by growth in Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Philippines, while chilled pork exports continued to strengthen to Japan and South Korea.
USMEF relayed that July pork exports to Mexico pulled back from the very large totals posted in May and June, but volume still increased 18% from a year ago to 66,442 mt. Value, on the other hand, soared 81% to $146.5 million. Through July, exports to Mexico were up 22% from a year ago to 462,771 mt, with value up 50% to $936 million. Compared to 2017, which USMEF noted was the record year for export volume to Mexico, January-July exports were 1% higher in volume and 10% higher in value.
Total exports to China declined from a year ago, but pork variety meat shipments to China were the second largest on record.
USMEF reported that China/Hong Kong remained the largest destination for U.S. pork through July, despite a 22% decline to 525,058 mt. Export value fell 21% to $1.23 billion.
“While China slipped to the number two destination (behind Mexico) for U.S. pork muscle cuts in the second half of last year, its demand for U.S. pork variety meat remains outstanding,” USMEF noted. In July, pork variety meat exports to China were the second largest on record and the combined total for China/Hong Kong was fourth highest. Through July, variety meat exports to the region climbed 22% from a year ago to 201,849 mt, valued at $491 million (up 29%).
For January through July, pork exports were 1% above last year's record pace at just under 1.8 million mt, while value increased 8% to $4.98 billion.
"Beef exports were really outstanding in July, especially with COVID-related challenges still impacting global foodservice as well as persistent obstacles in shipping and logistics," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Retail demand continues to be tremendous, as evidenced by the new beef value record. On the pork side, the U.S. industry remained focused on market diversity even when China's import volumes were absolutely off the charts. That philosophy is paying strong dividends now, with exports maintaining a record pace even as muscle cut exports to China trend significantly lower."
Halstrom was especially pleased to see pork variety meat exports bolster the July results, climbing back from a labor-related slump in mid-2020.
"While the tight labor situation is still very much a challenge for exporters, the variety meat capture rate has certainly improved and it is great to see exports exceed pre-COVID levels," he said. "This is especially important because China's demand for pork variety meat remains strong and it is critical that the U.S. industry capitalizes on this opportunity."
A detailed summary of the January-July red meat export results, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.