Outstanding First Half for U.S. Pork Exports; Beef Exports Below Record Pace of 2022

U.S. pork exports concluded an excellent first half with another strong performance in June, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). While well below the record pace established in 2022, June beef exports topped $900 million in value, pushing first-half export value to nearly $5 billion.

First-half pork exports achieve broad-based growth

June pork exports totaled 245,964 metric tons (mt), up 12% from a year ago, while export value climbed 6% to $691.4 million. Through the first half of 2023, exports were 14% above last year’s pace at 1.47 million mt, valued at $4.05 billion (up 12%).

Pork exports to Mexico are on a record pace, with first-half value up 21% to more than $1 billion. First-half exports increased sharply year-over-year to the ASEAN region, Australia, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic and Chile, while also posting gains in China/Hong Kong, South Korea and Central America. Pork variety meat exports surged by 32% in the first half to more than 297,000 mt, led by record-large shipments to China.

“Mexico is certainly the 2023 pacesetter for U.S. pork exports but what’s really exciting is that the industry is achieving such broad-based growth internationally,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “Exports are making impressive gains in the Western Hemisphere and reclaiming market share in many Asia-Pacific markets, and U.S. pork is well-positioned to continue gaining momentum in the second half.”

Other first-half export results for U.S. pork include: 

  • Pork exports to Japan edged above year-ago levels in June, increasing 1% in volume (32,420 mt) and 3% in value ($131.7 million). First-half export volume was slightly below last year (187,270 mt, down 1%), while export value fell 6% to $749.4 million.  Japan is importing more frozen pork from the U.S. and less chilled pork and ground seasoned pork, due in part to the weak yen and persistent shipping and logistical challenges. 
  • While pork exports to South Korea took a step back in June, first-half shipments still increased 10% from a year ago to 101,969 mt, while value was up 2% to $332.8 million. U.S. pork, which enters Korea at zero duty under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, achieved this growth despite imports from Canada, Mexico and Brazil benefiting from Korea’s recent implementation of duty-free import quotas. Korea also recently reinstated access for pork originating from regions of Germany that are free of African swine fever (ASF), including one German slaughter plant, but exports have not yet materialized. Similar to other Asian markets, Korea’s imports of European pork are down significantly in 2023, reflecting higher EU prices. 
  • Despite China’s persistently low first-half hog prices and large supplies of domestic pork, U.S. pork exports to China/Hong Kong – a majority of which is pork variety meat – have increased in 2023. First-half exports to the region totaled 275,358 mt, up 24% from a year ago, valued at $716.2 million (up 20%). Pork variety meat exports to China are on a record pace through June, totaling 173,647 mt, up 30% year-over-year, valued at $461 million (up 24%). China’s hog prices have increased sharply since mid-July, but any impact from this trend is not reflected in first-half export results. 
  • Led by China/Hong Kong and Mexico, global exports of U.S. pork variety meat reached 297,013 mt in the first half, up 32% from a year ago. Export value increased 22% to $703.9 million. First-half export growth was also fueled by larger shipments to the Philippines, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.   
  • Although pork exports to the Dominican Republic trended lower in May and June, shipments to the DR still increased impressively in the first half. January-June volume was up 29% from a year ago to 55,934 mt, while value increased 38% to $149.4 million. This nearly matches the full-year value total achieved in 2021, when exports to the DR were valued at $150.8 million.   
  • Robust growth in the Philippines and Malaysia pushed first-half pork exports to the ASEAN region to 35,855 mt, up 55% from a year ago, while value climbed 35% to $86.2 million. ASF has significantly impacted domestic pork production in both countries and the U.S. industry has capitalized on tighter supplies and higher prices for European pork. The Philippines has emerged as a major destination for pork variety meat exports, with first-half shipments up 67% to 13,612 mt, valued at $19 million (up 39%). 
  • Widespread growth in Central America pushed first-half pork exports up 3% to 61,690 mt, while value climbed 10% to $175.9 million. Shipments increased to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, offsetting a decline to Panama. 
  • Pork exports to South America trended lower in the first half as shipments to Colombia slowed (42,960 mt, down 17% from a year ago; $109.3 million, down 9%). But exports to Chile rebounded strongly, up 61% to 7,327 mt, valued at $25.29 million (up 21%). Exports to Peru increased as well, increasing 6% to 1,229 mt, valued at $3.2 million (up 11%).  Total exports to the region were down 10% to 52,442 mt, valued at $142.6 million (down 3%). 
  • Pork export value equated to $66.31 per head slaughtered in June, up 8% from a year ago. The first-half average was $63.87 per head, up 10%. Exports accounted for 31% of total June pork production, up four full percentage points from a year ago. For muscle cuts only, exports accounted for 26.7% of production – up three full percentage points. The first-half ratios were 30% of total production and 25.7% for muscle cuts, up from 26.6% and 23.5%, respectively. 

First-half beef exports lower overall, but bright spots emerge

Beef exports totaled 115,107 mt in June, down 12% from a year ago and slightly below the May volume. Export value was $909.5 million, down 13% year-over-year but the highest since October and 4% above the value posted in May. First-half beef exports were 10% below last year’s record pace at 669,176 mt. Export value was just under $5 billion – down 19% from a year ago but still 8% above the first half of 2021.

June beef exports to Taiwan were the largest in 14 months, while exports to Mexico continued to build momentum and shipments to Canada, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Dominican Republic posted year-over-year gains. June exports to South Korea, China and Japan were below last year’s large totals, though shipments to Japan improved notably in value from the previous month.

“It was a challenging first half for beef exports, especially when compared to the blistering pace established a year ago,” Halstrom said. “But we are encouraged to see that exports are still accounting for a consistently high percentage of total beef production, and variety meat exports have held up very well considering the decline in U.S. slaughter. These metrics continue to illustrate the important contribution of exports in maximizing beef carcass value.”

Other first-half export results for U.S. beef include: 

  • As noted above, beef exports to South Africa continued to strengthen in June. Shipments consisted entirely of variety meat, climbing 126% above last year to 1,733 mt. June export value was $1.7 million (up 7%). First-half exports to South Africa were 134% above last year at 10,413 mt, with value up 88% to $11.1 million. 
  • ·Beef exports to Canada also followed a strong May performance with a solid June total of 10,165 mt, up 13% from a year ago. June export value increased 20% to $90.3 million. First-half exports to Canada were steady with last year at 51,964 mt, valued at $417.6 million (down 1%). 
  • Exports to leading market Korea totaled 21,410 mt in June, down 14% from a year ago, while export value fell 19% to $186.9 million. First-half exports to Korea were 11% below last year’s record pace at 133,775 mt, valued at $1.09 billion (down 28%). 
  • First-half beef exports to China/Hong Kong totaled 119,810 mt, down 12% from a year ago, while value declined 17% to $1.04 billion. But exports to Hong Kong have strengthened in 2023, partially bolstered by a long-awaited uptick in tourism and business travel. First-half exports to Hong Kong increased 28% to 19,526 mt, valued at $201.3 million (up 10%).   
  • June beef exports to Japan remained significantly below last year but improved from the previous month. June shipments totaled 20,685 mt, down 25%, while export value was $166.4 million – down 20% from a year ago but notably higher (up 21%) than in May. First-half exports to Japan were down 17% year-over-year to 129,044 mt, valued at $924 million (down 26%). 
  • Despite taking a step back in June, first-half beef exports to the European Union, including product for use by cruise lines, increased 8% from a year ago in both volume (10,890 mt) and value ($143.2 million). 
  • The Dominican Republic took larger beef volumes in June (up 3% to 740 mt), bringing the first half total to 4,894 mt, up 6%. Export value climbed 10% to $53 million, reflecting strong demand in the tourism sector. 
  • Beef export value equated to $407.12 per head of fed slaughter in June, down 9% from a year ago. The first-half average was $394.39, down 17%. Exports accounted for 14.3% of total June beef production, down from 15.5% a year ago, while the ratio of muscle cuts exported fell only slightly to 12%. First-half ratios were 14.4% of total production and 12.2% for muscle cuts, each down about one percentage point from the first half of 2022.   

Lamb exports trend lower, fall below year-ago level

After a strong start in 2023, exports of U.S. lamb muscle cuts trended sharply lower in the second quarter. June exports were just 109 mt, down 56% from a year ago, while value fell 45% to $843,000. First-half exports were down 5% in volume (1,067 mt) and 6% in value ($6.35 million). Exports trended higher to the Netherlands Antilles, the Bahamas, Guatemala and Canada, and volume increased slightly to Mexico.

A detailed summary of the January-June export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.

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