US - While still hit by severe congestion in the West Coast ports, February exports of US beef, pork and lamb bounced back to some degree from the totals posted in January.
According to the USDA and US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) conditions are steadily improving on the West Coast, where congestion related to a labour dispute slowed container traffic over the past four months.
But the tentative contract agreement that eased tensions on the West Coast was not reached until 20 February, so this issue still had a significant impact on February meat exports.
“We didn’t see much relief from the shipping backlog until March, and container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng (pictured).
“However, the new labour contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the US meat industry to begin the process of putting this crisis behind us.
"The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we’re looking forward to further improvement when March results are published.”
In addition to port congestion, February exports also continued to face significant challenges such as the strong US dollar, large supplies from key competitors and market access barriers.
Japan, Korea, Mexico fuel beef export results
February beef exports totaled 82,991 metric tonnes (mt), down three per cent year-over-year but a four per cent improvement over January.
Export value of $535.3 million was up 12 per cent from a year ago and six per cent higher than in January.
January-February volume was 162,890 mt, down 11 per cent from the first two months of 2014, while value was four per cent above last year’s pace at $1.04 billion.
February beef exports accounted for 14 per cent of total production and 11 per cent for muscle cuts only. These ratios are similar to a year ago, but higher than in January.
Export value per head of fed slaughter was $318.26 in February (up 15 per cent from a year ago) and $293.47 for January-February (up 12 per cent).
Beef exports to Japan rebounded significantly in February, up 11 per cent from a year ago in volume (15,933 mt) and 23 per cent in value ($112.6 million).
For the two-month period, exports to Japan were still down one per cent in volume (29,743 mt) from a year ago but increased 11 per cent in value ($204.1 million).
The trend was similar for South Korea, as February exports were up 16 per cent in volume (10,899 mt) and 24 per cent in value ($80.4 million). January-February exports were still seven per cent lower in volume (17,972 mt) but increased three per cent in value ($137.9 million).
Mexico posted another strong month, driven by large beef variety meat exports.
February exports to Mexico were 18,555 mt (up seven per cent) valued at $93.6 million (up five per cent). Two-month totals were up three per cent in volume (38,768 mt) and nine per cent in value ($198.7 million).
Pork exports to Korea largest since 2011
February pork exports were 173,771 mt, down five per cent year-over-year but eight per cent higher than in January.
Export value was $470.7 million, down seven per cent from a year ago but three per cent higher than in January.
Cumulative 2015 totals were 334,936 mt valued at $926 million, down 10 percent in volume and 11 percent in value from January-February 2014.
February pork exports accounted for 25 per cent of total production and 20 per cent for muscle cuts only – lower than a year ago, but a significant improvement over January.
Export value per head slaughtered was $51.86 in February (down 11 per cent from a year ago) and $49.16 for January-February (down 13 percent).
February export volume to Korea totaled 22,615 mt – up 79 per cent from a year ago and the largest monthly total in nearly four years – while export value nearly doubled to $72.1 million.
For January-February, exports to Korea increased 58 per cent in volume (37,877 mt) and 77 per cent in value ($123.5 million).
Taiwan was the only other bright spot in Asia for U.S. pork, as February exports increased 149 per cent in volume (1,763 mt) and 131 per cent in value ($3.7 million) from a year ago. Through February, exports to Taiwan were up 86 per cent in volume (2,770 mt) and 59 per cent in value ($5.6 million) when compared to last year’s low levels.
This growth has been offset, however, by lower exports to Japan and China/Hong Kong.
February pork exports to Japan declined six per cent in volume (33,582 mt) and 11 per cent in value ($124.2 million) from a year ago. For January-February, exports fell nine per cent in volume (68,150 mt) and 16 percent in value ($254.1 million).
For China/Hong Kong, February exports were down 41 per cent from a year ago in both volume (21,903 mt) and value ($49.7 million). January-February exports fell 45 per cent to 39,584 mt valued at $92.4 million.
“The West Coast port situation was particularly damaging for our chilled pork exports to Japan, because it compromised our ability to meet customers’ shelf-life requirements,” Mr Seng explained.
“The ability to ship chilled product to Japan has always given US pork a distinct quality advantage over frozen pork from Europe.
"Now that we have chilled pork moving again, it is very important that we recapture this customer base.
"But this will not be easy, as pork from the EU continues to enter Japan at lower-than-usual prices. This is exacerbated by the strength of the US dollar versus both the yen and euro.”
February pork exports to Mexico were up 8 percent in volume (58,055 mt) but slipped 4 percent in value ($104.9 million). For January-February, exports to Mexico totaled 117,361 mt (up three per cent) valued at $217.7 million (down two per cent).
Pork exports to most Western Hemisphere markets trended higher year-over-year in February, including Canada, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Guatemala, though exports were lower to Colombia and Chile.
Lamb exports still struggling
Similar to beef and pork, US lamb exports were lower year-over-year in February but improved from the previous month.
February exports were down three per cent in volume (824 mt) and 13 per cent in value ($1.7 million). For the two-month period, exports declined 19 per cent in volume (1,543 mt) and 26 per cent in value ($3.4 million).
Complete January-February export results are available on the USMEF statistics webpage.
TheMeatSite News Desk