Meat in grocery

Beef exports over the first quarter of 2019 were just below last year’s record pace, according to an analysis by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

March exports were down 4% from a year ago, with first quarter exports down 3%. The value of beef exports in the first quarter was down just under 1 percent.

Pork exports were down 7% from a year ago, with the value of those exports down 15%. First quarter pork exports were down 6%, with values down 14%.

South Korea continues to be the hot spot for beef exports, with first quarter volume up 8% and value up 13%.

“U.S. beef has achieved remarkable success in Korea’s traditional retail and restaurant sectors, but is also rapidly gaining popularity in outlets such as convenience stores and e-commerce platforms,” USMEF says. “Recent export growth is not only in the ever-popular short rib category, but also in short plate, briskets, clods and rounds, as end-users recognize the versatility and affordability of high-quality U.S. beef.”

Beef exports to Japan were up 2% in the first quarter, fueled primarily by growth in the export of variety meats.

“U.S. beef cuts are still subject to a 38.5% tariff in Japan while our competitors’ rate is nearly one-third lower at 26.6%,” says Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “This really underscores the urgency of the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations, which must progress quickly if we are going to continue to have success in the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork.”

Retaliatory tariffs continue to plague the pork industry, says USMEF. A 20% tariff levied last year stopped a streak of six consecutive years of record exports to Mexico, with 2019 looking about the same.

Exports to Mexico were down 13% in the first quarter, and were down 29% in value.

USMEF says the U.S. is still the primary supplier of exported pork to Mexico, but adds Canada, Chile and the European Union are cutting into that percentage.

“U.S. pork also faces retaliatory duties in China, raising the total tariff rate from the normal 12% to 62%,” USMEF says. “This will make it difficult for U.S. pork to capitalize on any increase in China’s demand for imported pork, which analysts are projecting in the second half of 2019 and beyond, due to the spread of African swine fever.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.