U.S. beef exports greatly exceeded previous volume and value records in 2021, surpassing $10 billion for the first time, according to year-end data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork exports finished slightly below the record volume reached in 2020 but set a new value record, topping $8 billion for the first time.
Broad-based growth for U.S. beef exports
December beef exports totaled 121,429 metric tons (mt), up 1% from a year ago, while value climbed 33% to $991.8 million – the third largest month on record. These results pushed 2021 volume to 1.44 million mt, up 15% from a year ago and 7% above the previous record set in 2018. Export value soared to $10.58 billion, up 38% from 2020 and shattering the previous record (also from 2018) by 27%.
Beef exports to Korea, Japan and China/Hong Kong each exceeded $2 billion, setting new volume and value records in Korea and China/Hong Kong and a value record in Japan. Exports also set a new value record in Taiwan and reached new heights in Central America, Colombia and Indonesia. Global exports of U.S. beef variety meat also set a new value record of $1.09 billion, up 24% year-over-year.
“The beef export results are truly remarkable, especially considering the COVID-related obstacles in the global foodservice sector and all the supply-side and logistical challenges faced by the U.S. industry,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Obviously our large Asian markets accounted for much of the growth, but it really takes broad-based global demand to reach these impressive levels. So this success story is not just about Korea, Japan and China – but also a strong performance in Taiwan, excellent growth in Central and South America and a rebound in Mexico and Southeast Asia.”
Beef export value per head of fed slaughter equated to a record $407.22 in 2021, up 35% from a year ago. Exports accounted for 15% of total beef production and 12.8% for muscle cuts only, up significantly from the respective 2020 ratios of 13.5% and 11.3%.
Japan remained the leading volume destination for U.S. beef exports in 2021, up 5% from 2020 and the second largest of the post-BSE era. Export value climbed 22% to a record $2.376 billion, but finished a close second to South Korea. The U.S. industry remains concerned about Japan’s import safeguard, which resulted in a higher tariff rate being imposed on U.S. beef in late March and early April of last year. Without an adjustment to the safeguard threshold, a similar scenario is possible in 2022 and highly likely in years to come.
Capitalizing on the market access gains included in the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, beef exports to China/Hong Kong also broke the $2 billion mark at $2.09 billion, up 114% from 2020, while volume climbed 87% to 240,827 mt. Direct exports to China, which started to gain significant traction in mid-2020, jumped 346% in volume and 413% in value. U.S. beef accounted for 6% of China’s total imports on a volume basis and 11% by value. Grain-fed beef now accounts for an estimated 11% of China’s imports with the U.S. as the largest supplier, providing approximately 68% of China’s grain-fed imports.