February Beef Exports Maintain Strong Momentum

Asian exports helped overcome declines in North American markets.

February beef plus beef variety meat exports increased 4% in volume, at 145.8 million pounds, and showed a slight increase in value, at $220.5 million, over February 2008. Beef muscle cut exports increased by 9% in volume to 90.3 million pounds and 7% in value to $172.9 million, while beef variety meat exports dropped slightly in volume to 55.5 million pounds and declined nearly 17% in value to $47.6 million. Year-to-date through February, the latest statistics available, beef muscle cut exports have increased 11% in both volume and value over the same period last year, while variety meat exports have declined 11% in volume and 20% in value, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), the beef checkoff's contractor for foreign market development.

"Slumping currencies in both Mexico and Canada have been affecting U.S. beef exports to those two markets, but said that situation is starting to improve," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "We are also seeing some impact from the declining volume of live cattle imports from those two countries, which is increasing their own domestic beef supplies."

Increased beef exports to South Korea and Vietnam helped overcome declines in the beef industry's leading markets of Mexico and Canada.

Beef exports to Korea slumped near the end of 2008, with December results totaling 7.4 million pounds valued at $15.2 million. But the new year has seen a rebound in exports to Korea, with the January-February monthly average now standing at 14.4 million pounds with an average value of $24.9 million. This places Korea third among all destinations for U.S. beef – trailing only Mexico and Canada – in both volume and value.

Vietnam ranks fourth in volume and fifth in value for U.S. beef plus beef variety meat exports, with year-to-date exports to Vietnam doubling in volume over 2008 to 24.2 million pounds and increasing 174% in value to $36.2 million.

Japan continues its steady rise as a destination for U.S. beef exports, with 2009 totals through February increasing by 19% in volume (to 8,056 metric tons or 17.8 million pounds) and 17% in value (to $43.3 million).

The strong performance of these markets helped offset a slowdown in exports to Mexico, Canada and Taiwan. Though Mexico and Canada have held their position as the top two destinations for U.S. beef, year-to-date exports to Mexico have declined 22% in volume to 113 million pounds and 17% in value to $179.1 million. Export volume to Canada declined 14% to 39.9 million pounds and by 22% in value to $73.1 million. Beef exports to Taiwan have dropped even more sharply, declining by 29% in volume to 6.1 million pounds and 28% in value to $13.3 million.

While consumers in some global markets are "trading down" in terms of the U.S. beef cuts they are purchasing, Seng noted that customers in Taiwan are not as well-positioned to do that because of market access limitations.

"We are still restricted in Taiwan to boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age," he said. "If we are able expand our market access there, I feel we can reverse any further declines in that market by exporting a strong volume of short ribs and other bone-in beef cuts."

Despite continued economic uncertainty in key markets, Seng reiterated USMEF's commitment to recapturing U.S. beef market share and growing the reach of high-quality U.S. middle meats.

"Certainly it's a tough marketing environment for beef right now, both globally and domestically," he said. "But we currently have some high-end cuts to offer at very competitive prices, and USMEF is having notable success with those cuts in certain markets. We are also encouraged to see the currencies of some of our key trading partners beginning to stabilize. That will also help make U.S. beef more affordable overseas."

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