Following a record-breaking March performance, exports of U.S. beef continued to build momentum in April, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
April exports of U.S. beef set another new value record at $808.3 million, up 35% from a year ago, with export volume reaching 121,050 metric tons (mt) – up 23% year-over-year and the fifth largest on record. For January through April, beef exports moved 5% ahead of last year’s pace at 454,398 mt, with value up 10% to $2.93 billion.
“Looking back at April 2020, it was a difficult month for red meat exports as we began to see COVID-related supply chain interruptions and foodservice demand took a major hit in many key markets,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “While it is no surprise that exports performed much better in April 2021, we are pleased to see that global demand continued to build on the broad-based growth achieved in March.”
Halstrom cautioned, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major concern for the U.S. meat industry, adding uncertainty to the business climate in many export destinations. Logistical challenges, including container shortages and ongoing vessel congestion at many U.S. ports, also present significant obstacles for red meat exports.
“While conditions are improving in many key markets, the COVID impact is the most intense it has ever been in Taiwan and heightened countermeasures are also in place in Japan and other Asian countries,” he explained. “But foodservice activity is climbing back in our Latin American markets and retail demand – both in traditional settings and in e-commerce – has been outstanding and USMEF continues to find innovative ways for the U.S. industry to capitalize on these opportunities. We are also working with ag industry partners and regulatory agencies to find ways to improve the flow of outbound cargo, which is essential to maintaining export growth.”
In addition to the overall value record, beef export value per head of fed slaughter also reached a new high in April at $367.45, up 1% from a year ago. Through April, per-head value averaged $343.70, up 5% from the same period last year. Through April, exports accounted for 14.4% of total beef production.
April beef exports to South Korea increased 21% from a year ago to 23,482 mt, and just missed setting a new value record at $182.7 million (up 36% and slightly below the August 2020 high).
Beef exports to China continued to soar in April, reaching a record 17,233 mt (up from just 1,367 mt a year ago). Export value to China was $130.6 million – up from $11.5 million. Through April, beef exports increased more than 1,300% in both volume (48,291 mt) and value ($364.6 million). These are new annual records, already exceeding the full-year totals posted in 2020.
While Japan remains the leading volume destination for U.S. beef, April exports definitely felt the impact of Japan’s safeguard tariff, which was in effect from mid-March to mid-April. During this time, U.S. beef cuts entering Japan were tariffed at 38.5%, well above the rates imposed on major competitors. The rate for U.S. beef dropped to 25% on April 17, which is level with other major suppliers. U.S. trade officials are in consultations with their Japanese counterparts on the safeguard threshold, which USMEF expects to be exceeded every year unless it is increased. Through April, exports were down 12% to 100,702 mt, valued at $655.9 million (down 9%).
Beef exports, which have declined each of the past two years, are forecast to increase above 2019 and 2020 levels and possibly exceed the record 2018 level.