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Last year U.S. beef exports shattered the previous value record and achieved a new high for volume, according to year-end 2018 statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Pork export volume came up just short of the record set in 2017 while value slipped 1 percent year-over-year. U.S. lamb exports rebounded from a down year in 2017, largely due to stronger variety meat demand in Mexico.

Fueled by tremendous demand in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the ASEAN region, U.S. beef exports reached 1.35 million metric tons (mt), up 7 percent from 2017 and exceeding the 2011 record by 5 percent. Export value soared to $8.33 billion, breaking the 2017 record by $1.06 billion – an increase of 15 percent. For December only, beef export volume was down slightly from a year ago to 112,777 mt, but value still increased 4 percent to $700.2 million.

Beef export value was also record-shattering on a per-head basis, averaging $323.14 per head of fed slaughter in 2018. This was a 13 percent increase over 2017 and exceeded the 2014 record by 8 percent. Beef exports accounted for 13.5 percent of total beef production in 2018 and 11.1 percent for muscle cuts, up from 12.9 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, in 2017.

Despite significant headwinds, 2018 pork exports reached 2.44 million mt – just 0.5 percent below the 2017 record. Pork export value was $6.39 billion, down 1 percent year-over-year and the third-highest total on record, trailing only 2014 ($6.65 billion) and 2017 ($6.49 billion). For December only, pork exports were down 5 percent from a year ago to 209,780 mt, valued at $527.4 million (down 11 percent).

Pork export value averaged $51.37 per head slaughtered in 2018, down 4 percent year-over-year. Exports accounted for 25.7 percent of total pork production, down about one percentage point from 2017. The ratio was 22.5 percent when including only pork muscle cuts – up from 22.3 percent in 2017.

Korea accounts for half of the $1 billion surge in beef exports

While demand for U.S. beef showed remarkable strength throughout the world in 2018, no market exemplified this momentum more than South Korea. Exports to Korea increased 30 percent year-over-year in volume to 239,676 mt and jumped 43 percent in value to $1.75 billion – an increase of $526 million over the 2017 record and more than double the value total posted just three years ago. Chilled beef exports to Korea increased 19 percent to 53,823 mt and climbed 29 percent in value to a record $525 million, illustrating U.S. beef’s surging success in the Korean retail and foodservice sectors. U.S. beef accounted for 58 percent of Korea’s chilled beef imports in 2018.

“There may have been no greater ag trade success story in 2018 than U.S. beef exports to Korea,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “Less than a decade removed from street protests opposing the reopening of this market, Koreans now consume more U.S. beef per capita than any international destination. This is a testament to the U.S. beef industry’s strong commitment to the Korean market and the outstanding support received from the U.S. government – through both USDA promotional funding and the negotiation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which has dramatically lowered import duties on U.S. beef.”

Since KORUS was implemented in 2012, the import duty rate on U.S. beef has declined from 40 to 18.7 percent and will fall to zero by 2026. U.S. beef’s main competitors also have free trade agreements with Korea but currently face higher duty rates than the U.S., including Australia (24 percent), Canada (26.6 percent) and New Zealand (26.6 percent).

Other 2018 highlights for U.S. beef exports include:

  • Exports to leading market Japan increased 7 percent from a year ago in volume (330,217 mt) and 10 percent in value ($2.08 billion, topping $2 billion for the first time in the post-BSE era). The United States is Japan’s largest beef supplier by value and a close second to Australia in volume, but this position is tenuous due to a widening tariff rate gap between U.S. beef and its main competitors, all of which secured tariff rate relief under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
  • Taiwan’s demand for U.S. beef continued to surge in 2018, with exports increasing 33 percent in volume (59,694 mt) and 34 percent in value ($550 million) from the previous records set in 2017. Export value to Taiwan has doubled over the past five years, setting six consecutive records, and U.S. beef holds more than 75 percent of Taiwan’s chilled beef market – the largest share of any Asian destination.
  • While total beef exports to Mexico increased only slightly year-over-year in volume to 239,110 mt, beef muscle cuts achieved strong growth – climbing 7 percent to 142,514 mt. Total export value was up 8 percent to $1.06 billion, exceeding $1 billion for the first time since 2015. Muscle cut value increased 11 percent to $828.8 million.
  • Beef exports to China/Hong Kong softened in November and December and finished the year 3 percent lower in volume at 130,129 mt. However, export value still climbed 12 percent to $1.03 billion (marking the first time since 2014 that U.S. beef exports topped $1 billion in four separate markets). This included exports to China of 7,297 mt valued at $60.8 million. China reopened to U.S. beef in June 2017 after a 13-year absence, but U.S. beef has been heavily disadvantaged by the 25 percent retaliatory duty imposed by China last year, bringing the total tariff rate on U.S. beef to 37 percent. By comparison, Australian beef pays just 6 percent and New Zealand beef is duty-free, benefiting from free trade agreements with China.
  • Led by outstanding growth in the Philippines and Vietnam and larger shipments to Indonesia, beef exports to the ASEAN region increased 20 percent from a year ago in volume (49,226 mt) and 30 percent in value ($274.6 million).
  • Strong growth in Colombia kept beef exports to South America steady with the previous year’s volume at 28,333 mt, while value set a new record at $126.2 million (up 10 percent). Exports were also higher year-over-year to Peru but declined to Chile as Brazil and Argentina’s exports to Chile surged, benefiting from weaker currencies.
  • A strong performance in mainstay market Guatemala and significant growth in Costa Rica and Panama pushed beef exports to Central America to record highs in volume (14,739 mt, up 14 percent) and value ($80 million, up 11 percent).

Solid year for U.S. pork, but second-half exports pressured by retaliatory duties

Through May 2018, pork exports to leading volume market Mexico appeared to be headed for a seventh consecutive record, topping the 2017 pace by 6 percent. But May was the last month in which exports to Mexico would increase year-over-year, due to retaliatory duties imposed in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Export volume to Mexico held up relatively well, finishing the year at 777,143 mt – 3 percent below the 2017 record. But export value took a bigger hit, declining 13 percent to $1.31 billion – the lowest since 2015. The decline in value from June through December was 24 percent, totaling $218 million, underscoring the large degree to which U.S. producers and exporters bore the cost of Mexico’s 20 percent retaliatory duty.

“The U.S. pork industry understands the vital importance of the Mexican market, and with strong industry support USMEF has intensified its efforts to retain as much of this business as possible,” Halstrom said. “This includes enhanced outreach in every sector, from large processors, to regional supermarkets, to specialty retailers and restaurant chains. While these efforts have been successful, the decline in export value clearly shows the negative impact these retaliatory duties have imposed on the U.S. pork supply chain.”

Retaliatory duties also impacted pork exports to China/Hong Kong, which fell 29 percent in volume (351,774 mt) and 21 percent in value ($851.7 million) compared to 2017. This included a 30 percent decline in pork variety meat volume to 225,414 (China/Hong Kong is the largest destination for U.S. pork variety meat). The corresponding dramatic decreases in values for feet and picnic hocks, combined with lower ham and picnic values, mean that retaliatory tariffs in China and Mexico resulted in lost value of $11.75 per head (or $860 million) from June through December 2018.

On the positive side, U.S. pork exports to Korea were record-shattering in 2018, soaring 40 percent year-over-year in volume (242,372 mt) and 41 percent in value ($670.3 million). Export value topped the previous record, set in 2011, by 35 percent as U.S. pork capitalized on Koreans’ surging pork consumption. Most U.S. pork now enters Korea duty-free under KORUS, making pork products more affordable and accessible and a perfect fit for Korean’s convenience-driven demand. Korea’s imports of U.S. pork variety meat jumped by 62 percent in volume (15,525 mt) and 68 percent in value ($45.9 million) as items such as bungs and feet made impressive gains.

Other 2018 highlights for U.S. pork include:

  • Exports to leading value market Japan were steady with 2017 in both volume (394,300 mt) and value ($1.62 billion). But similar to beef, U.S. pork’s position as Japan’s leading pork supplier is threatened by implementation of CPTPP and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. The United States is now the only major pork supplier that has not gained tariff relief in Japan, with the most immediate impact expected in Japan’s imports of ground seasoned pork and processed pork products.
  • Fueled by remarkable growth in Colombia and solid increases in Chile and Peru, pork exports to South America reached new heights in 2018, increasing 30 percent in volume (135,298 mt) and 23 percent in value ($328.8 million). While most U.S. pork entering South America is for further processing, the U.S. industry is increasingly making inroads into the region’s rapidly growing retail and foodservice sectors.
  • Pork exports to Central America were also record-large, increasing 16 percent in volume to 86,031 mt and 12 percent in value to $201.7 million. Exports increased to mainstay markets Honduras and Guatemala, but much of the region’s growth was achieved in Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
  • Australia is one of the top destinations for U.S. hams (outside of Mexico and China/Hong Kong), and strong demand for hams pushed pork exports to Australia up 13 percent from a year ago in volume (80,431 mt) and 9 percent in value ($227.3 million). The U.S. also gained significant market share, climbing from 40 to 46 percent of Australia’s pork imports. Exports to New Zealand also trended higher, climbing 10 percent in volume (7,897 mt) and 12 percent in value ($25.6 million).
  • Impressive growth in the Philippines and Vietnam pushed pork exports to the ASEAN region 43 percent higher in volume (68,326 mt) and 31 percent higher in value ($168.5 million). In a down year for U.S. pork variety meat, exports to the ASEAN were a notable bright spot – more than doubling from a year ago in both volume (28,619 mt, up 129 percent) and value ($45.6 million, up 107 percent).
  • Pork exports to the Dominican Republic continued to gain momentum in 2018, easily surpassing previous records for both volume (42,669 mt, up 39 percent) and value ($92.5 million, up 30 percent).

U.S. lamb export volume largest since 2012

Mexico’s strong demand for U.S. lamb variety meat fueled a rebound in 2018 lamb exports, with combined lamb/lamb variety meat shipments climbing 77 percent in volume to 12,866 mt, the largest since 2012. Export value increased 19 percent to $23.4 million, the highest since 2014. While this was primarily driven by larger variety meat exports, lamb muscle cuts also achieved promising growth in the Caribbean, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. Japan and Taiwan are also potentially strong destinations, having reopened to U.S. lamb in 2018 and 2016, respectively.

Complete 2018 export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb are available from USMEF’s statistics Web page.

Monthly charts for U.S. pork and beef exports are also available online.

If you have questions, please contact Joe Schuele at jschuele@usmef.org or call 303-547-0030.

NOTES:

  • Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat, unless otherwise noted.
  • One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.
  • U.S. pork currently faces retaliatory duties in China and Mexico. China’s duty rate on frozen pork muscle cuts and variety meat increased from 12 to 37 percent in April and from 37 to 62 percent in July. Mexico’s duty rate on pork muscle cuts increased from zero to 10 percent in June and jumped to 20 percent in July. Beginning in June, Mexico also imposed a 15 percent duty on sausages and a 20 percent duty on some prepared hams.
  • U.S. beef faces retaliatory duties in China and Canada. China’s duty rate on beef muscle cuts and variety meats increased from 12 to 37 percent in July. Canada’s 10 percent duty, which also took effect in July, applies to HS 160250 cooked/prepared beef products.

The importance of Japan as a trading partner for U.S. agriculture was the focus of a Feb. 22 panel discussion at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia. U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Economist Erin Borror explained that Japan is the leading value destination for both U.S. beef and U.S. pork, with 2018 exports expected to reach $2.1 billion and $1.65 billion, respectively, when year-end data is available. But Borror also cautioned that the competitive terrain in Japan has gotten steeper for U.S. red meat due to Japan’s preferential trade agreements with Australia, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Mexico and Chile, and this situation will worsen unless the United States secures similar access terms with Japan.

Borror noted that U.S. beef export value per head of fed slaughter averaged a record $320.72 in 2018, up 14 percent year-over-year and shattering the previous high ($300.36) set in 2014. Japan accounts for one-fourth of this total, or $82.75 per head. The ratio is similar for U.S. pork export value, which averaged $51.46 per head slaughtered in 2018. Japan accounted for $13.18, or 26 percent of the total per-head value.

She also explained that beef and pork make up a significant portion of U.S. agricultural exports to Japan. The projected $3.92 billion in combined red meat product exports represent about 30 percent of the $13 billion in total U.S. ag exports to Japan, second only to grains and feeds.

Furthermore, Japan’s red meat consumption is likely to expand at a faster rate once the benefits of lower import duties are passed along to consumers. In South Korea, for example, the tariff rate on U.S. beef has dropped by more than half since 2012 under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and U.S. beef enjoys a tariff rate advantage over its competitors. Most pork from the United States and other major suppliers enters Korea at zero duty. Red meat is now more affordable and accessible for Korean consumers who have responded enthusiastically, with per capita consumption setting new records. A similar development in Japan will only benefit the U.S. beef and pork industries if they are on a level playing field with competitors.

Without a U.S.-Japan trade agreement, potential losses for the U.S. meat industry are substantial. On a per-head basis, Borror estimates lost export opportunities for U.S. beef will reach $18.70 by 2023 and $42 by 2028. For pork, the per-head loss is projected to be $4.55 by 2023 and $7.06 by 2028. U.S. exporters are already feeling the effects of tariff disadvantages of 11 percentage points for beef cuts and 6.4 percentage points for beef tongues and skirts. For pork, the most immediate impact is on processed and value-added products, where tariffs are quickly being phased to zero. This is already eroding U.S. market share for important products such as ground seasoned pork. Japan’s imports of U.S. ground seasoned pork were valued at $288 million last year.

“Unless the U.S. and Japan can quickly reach a trade agreement, lost opportunities will mount as Japanese companies seek more value-added, further processed products from suppliers such as the EU and Mexico,” Borror explained. “Decisions that are being made today will transform the business and without clear indications that the U.S. and Japan will reach an agreement, the U.S. industry is likely to suffer permanent losses in market share and related investment. Japan is irreplaceable as a trading partner, given its demand for high-value chilled pork cuts, and it is seen as an increasingly important market for value-added pork. At a time when U.S. companies are looking to produce more value-added and branded products, the industry cannot afford to miss these opportunities in Japan.”

These lost export opportunities also carry serious implications for U.S. agriculture and the rural economy. Exports to Japan are estimated to directly support more than 4 percent of the jobs in the meat packing and processing industry. Absent a trade agreement with Japan, an annual cost of $5.2 billion in direct economic losses to other businesses and industries will result in the top 15 meat packing and processing states. Over the next 10 years, an estimated 23,600 jobs outside the meat industry would be lost in those 15 states.

Joining Borror on the discussion panel were Jeffrey Schott, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Ben Conner, vice president of policy for U.S. Wheat Associates. More details from Borror’s presentation are available online.

Borror also addressed the USDA Outlook Forum on Feb. 21, covering a range of topics impacting global red meat trade. These included the spread of African swine fever (ASF) in China, which has the potential to increase China’s need for imported pork. ASF’s expansion in Europe also impacts global trade, as some countries have suspended imports from European Union member states in which ASF is confirmed.

Borror also detailed the impact of ongoing trade disputes on U.S. red meat exports, including imposition of retaliatory duties on U.S. pork by China and Mexico. China also increased the duty rate for U.S. beef last year, and Canada imposed retaliatory duties on prepared beef products imported from the United States.

Retaliation has weighed less heavily on U.S. beef exports, which were record-large in 2018 and surged by more than $1 billion over the previous year. Pork export volume held steady with the record pace of 2017, but export value was pressured greatly in the second half of the year, following retaliatory actions by China and Mexico. Borror explained the retaliatory tariffs have been paid by the U.S. pork industry as prices for hams, picnics, feet and hocks – key items for export to Mexico and China – were down an average of about 20 percent from June through December last year, and this translated into year-over-year losses of $11.75 per head. Industry losses, just for these products, amounted to $860 million.