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U.S. beef exports off to solid start in 2011

U.S. Meat Export Federation Published on 11 March 2011

January exports of U.S. beef were well above year-ago levels, though they took a step back from the totals recorded in the previous month, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef exports made a larger year-over-year jump, increasing 24 percent in volume to 89,673 metric tons and 43 percent in value to $355.6 million.

"Despite some significant market access issues - some ongoing and some new - our exports performed quite well in January," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "U.S. meat products continue to command excellent prices throughout the world, which is providing a boost for the American producer and the entire meat industry."

U.S. beef exports cracked the $4 billion mark for the first time in 2010, and showed no signs of slowing down in 2011. Mexico was the only major market to post a decline in 2010 as it still struggled to recover from the global economic slump, but showed renewed momentum in the fourth quarter of the year. This trend continued in January with an 18 percent jump in the value of exports ($74.9 million) on volume (20,2411 metric tons) that was slightly below last year.

Canada solidified its position as the No. 2 market for U.S. beef, with January exports up 17 percent in volume (12,917 metric tons) and surging one-third in value to $63.1 million.

Despite limited market access, U.S. beef continued to make strides in Japan with exports rising nearly 70 percent in both volume and value to 9,459 metric tons valued at $47.2 million.

Exports to Korea continued to show remarkable strength, increasing 63 percent in volume (11,975 metric tons) and 81 percent in value ($49.2 million) over January 2010. 

Despite political and social unrest in the Middle East, exports to the region grew more than 50 percent in volume (11,643 metric tons) and nearly doubled in value to $25.4 million. Exports to Egypt, the region's largest market, rose 55 percent in volume and 134 percent in value. Results were mixed for the region's other two major markets, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Exports to Saudi Arabia were up 12 percent in volume and 53 percent in value. Export volume to the UAE was down 18 percent, but it still achieved a slight value increase of 4 percent.

Exports to Hong Kong surged 156 percent in volume (5,219 metric tons) and 168 percent in value ($22.5 million) despite the continued restriction of U.S. beef to boneless muscle cuts.

Exports to Russia dipped slightly in volume (2,706 metric tons) but grew 40 percent in value to $5.4 million as Russia continued to show a growing appetite for U.S. muscle cuts.

Taiwan was the only major market to show a year-over-year decline in U.S. beef demand, with exports dropping 14 percent in volume to 2,609 metric tons and 4 percent in value to $16.8 million. This was primarily due to Taiwan's sudden change in testing for ractopamine residues, which created a very uncertain environment for importers. USMEF expects the decline in export activity to Taiwan to be even more pronounced in February as the two countries continue to work on resolving the ractopamine testing issue.

"U.S. beef continues to make remarkable strides across the globe, despite some major obstacles," Seng said. "It is very gratifying to see demand in Mexico recovering, as that was the one piece of the puzzle that was missing throughout much of 2010."

Despite widespread news reports suggesting that foot-and-mouth disease is driving U.S. beef exports to Korea, USMEF-Korea Director Jihae Yang says it is simply a case of consumer demand for U.S. beef achieving a sustained and significant recovery.

"The Korean FMD cases did not significantly harm the domestic cattle industry," she explained. "The Korean government culled less than 5 percent of the cattle population, so there is still plenty of domestic beef available in this market. Demand for U.S. beef was in recovery long before the FMD crisis started, so FMD is not the major factor driving the increase in U.S. beef exports." end_mark