U.S. Beef Exports Fall in 2020, But Showing Signs of Recovery


U.S. beef exports finished 2020 lower year-over-year, falling 5% in both volume (1.25 million mt) and value ($7.65 billion), according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. However, beef exports finished the year with very strong momentum, with fourth quarter volume up 4.5% from 2019 and posting one of the best months on record in December. Beef exports to China were record-large in 2020 and a new volume record was also achieved in Taiwan.

Beef exports were heavily impacted by foodservice restrictions in many major markets but trended higher late in the year, bolstered by very strong retail and holiday demand.

“Consumers across the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by seeking high-quality products they could enjoy at home, and U.S. beef and pork definitely met this need,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “We expect these retail and home-delivery demand trends to continue even as sit-down restaurant dining recovers, creating robust opportunities for U.S. red meat export growth.”

December beef exports totaled 119,892 mt, up 8% from December 2019 and the largest in nearly 10 years. Export value was $744 million, up 9% from a year ago and the second highest total on record. December exports of beef muscle cuts were the second largest ever at 93,941 mt, climbing 11% year-over-year in both volume and value ($659.8 million). For 2020, beef muscle cut exports were down 2% year-over-year at 976,953 mt and fell 5% in value to $6.77 billion.

Exports to leading market Japan slipped 2% year-over-year to 306,140 mt, with value holding steady at $1.94 billion. Beef muscle cut exports to Japan climbed 5% to 259,412 mt, with value up 1% to $1.57 billion. U.S. beef regained market share in Japan, climbing from 41% in 2019 to 44% in 2020, benefiting from the duty reductions in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.

Beef exports to South Korea also held up relatively well, though shipments trailed the 2019 record by 4% at 246,231 mt, valued at $1.72 billion (down 6.5%). U.S. beef made substantial market share gains in Korea in 2020, capturing nearly 53% of total imports (up from 51.5% in 2019) and 64% of chilled imports (up from 62%). Korea’s imports of U.S. chilled beef set another new record in 2020, totaling 62,825 mt (up 14.5%).

The U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement took effect in March, making beef from a much larger percentage of U.S. cattle eligible for the rapidly growing Chinese market. The U.S. industry capitalized in a big way, with exports quadrupling year-over-year to a record 42,813 mt, valued at $310.2 million (up 260%). Since September, the U.S. has surpassed Australia as the largest supplier of grain-beef to China.

Exports to Taiwan set a new volume record for the fifth consecutive year at 63,752 mt, slightly exceeding 2019, though export value slipped 3% to $551.7 million. The United States continued to dominate Taiwan’s chilled beef imports in 2020, capturing 76% market share.

While beef exports to Mexico were significantly lower year-over-year, demand has rebounded in recent months. In December, beef muscle cut exports to Mexico reached 16,647 mt, the largest volume since 2009. Total December export volume was 27,230 mt, up 25% from a year ago, with value up 23% to $127 million. For the full year, exports to Mexico finished 18% below 2019 at 192,951 mt, valued at $852.6 million (down 23%).

Following a down year in 2019, beef exports to Canada rebounded to 108,227 mt, up 8% year-over-year. Export value increased 11% to $727.5 million.



U.S. pork exports reached nearly 3 million metric tons (mt) in 2020, topping the 2019 record by 11%. Pork export value also climbed 11% to a record $7.71 billion. Exports set new annual records in China/Hong Kong, Central America, Vietnam and Chile, and achieved strong fourth quarter growth in Japan and Mexico.

“Obviously the surge in demand from China, especially in the first half of 2020, was a driving force behind the record performance for U.S. pork exports,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “But China was not the only success story in 2020, as exports achieved growth in a broad range of markets. Diversifying export markets is a top priority for USMEF and the U.S. industry, and that strategy paid dividends – especially in the fourth quarter, when exports to China/Hong Kong were down 9% from 2019 but shipments to the rest of the world nearly offset that slowdown.”

December pork exports totaled 259,654 mt, down 8% from the very large year-ago volume, with value down 10% to $687.2 million. December muscle cut exports were also down 8% at 219,224 mt, valued at $590.2 million (down 11%). For the full year, pork muscle cut exports were record-large at 2.51 million mt, up 15% from 2019, valued at a record $6.67 billion (up 12%).



U.S. lamb exports reached a record 20,045 mt in 2020, up 27% year-over-year, though export value fell 9% to $23.8 million. Export growth was led by leading market Mexico, where volume climbed to 18,927 mt (up 38%) valued at $17.4 million (up 25%). Other markets in which U.S. lamb exports achieved growth in 2020 included Bermuda, Hong Kong, Japan and Bahrain.



U.S. Meat Export Federation

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