US meat exports on record pace through 3Q21

Strong demand from Mexico provided another powerful boost for US pork exports in September
calendar icon 8 November 2021
clock icon 6 minute read

Beef exports posted one of the best months on record in September, with value climbing nearly 60% above last year. Pork export volume was slightly below last September, but value still increased 8%.

Pork exports totaled 219,687 mt in September, down 1% from a year ago, but value was 8% higher at $608.3 million. For January through September, exports were 1% above last year's record pace at 2.24 million mt, while value climbed 9% to $6.23 billion.

Pork export growth to Western Hemisphere markets offsets softer demand in China

Strong demand from Mexico provided another powerful boost for U.S. pork exports in September, as shipments climbed 45% from a year ago to 79,678 mt, the third highest volume on record, valued at $141.6 million (up 59%). Through September, exports to Mexico were up 27% to 623,228 mt, while value climbed an impressive 57% to $1.24 billion. Exports have also moved ahead of the record pace of 2017, when full-year shipments to Mexico topped 800,000 mt and exceeded $1.5 billion in value.

Pork exports to Central America continued to shine in September, climbing 63% from a year ago to 11,110 mt, while value nearly doubled to $30.9 million (up 93%). Led by outstanding growth in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, January-September exports to the region increased 48% in volume (98,547 mt) and 63% in value ($263.1 million).

Following a down year in 2020, pork exports to Colombia have staged an impressive comeback. September exports totaled 7,934 mt, up 68% from a year ago, while value more than doubled to $20.5 million (up 103%). Through the first three quarters of the year, shipments to Colombia nearly matched the pre-COVID levels of 2019 in volume (70,905 mt, up 55% from a year ago) and actually moved higher in value at $169.5 million (up 70% from a year ago and 7% above 2019).

Other January-September highlights for U.S. pork exports include:

  • As anticipated, total pork exports to China/Hong Kong declined significantly from a year ago, falling 23% to 619,709 mt. However, pork variety meat shipments have strengthened, increasing 24% to 259,703 mt and climbing 29% in value to $623.7 million. Variety meat exports to China averaged nearly six pounds per head harvested through September, valued at $6.52.
  • Although September export volume to Japan was down 5% from a year ago to 29,102 mt, export value still increased slightly to $128.4 million. Through September, exports to Japan were 6% above last year at 300,982 mt and climbed 7% in value to $1.28 billion.
  • Pork exports to Korea were 5% above last year at 128,467 mt, while export value jumped 20% to $419 million, driven in part by a surge in Korea’s demand for higher-value U.S. chilled pork. Korean customs clearance data show chilled imports from the U.S. reached nearly 7,500 mt through September, up 177% year-over-year, capturing 40% market share and narrowly edging Canada as the top supplier.
  • Demand for U.S. pork continues to climb in the Dominican Republic, where exports increased 45% to 42,440 mt, valued at $109 million (up 66%).
  • September pork export value equated to $56.53 per head slaughtered, up 11% from a year ago. Through September, per-head export value was also up 11% to $65.06. Exports accounted for 26.9% of total September pork production, up slightly from a year ago, while the ratio of muscle cuts exported was down about one percentage point to 23.1%. Through September, exports accounted for 30.4% of total pork production, up from 29.6% a year ago. The ratio of muscle cuts exported was 26.8% (down slightly).

Beef exports continued to soar in September at 123,628 metric tons (mt), up 20% from a year ago and the fourth largest volume of the post-BSE era. Export value jumped 59% to $954.1 million – the second highest month on record, trailing only August 2021. For the first three quarters of 2021, beef exports increased 18% from a year ago to 1.08 million mt, valued at $7.58 billion – up more than $2 billion (36%) from the same period last year. Compared to the record year of 2018, January-September exports were 7% higher in volume and up 24% in value.

Japan, South Korea and China/Hong Kong are all on track to be $2 billion destinations for US beef in 2021, with strong growth in chilled beef exports to Japan and Korea. Beef exports to most Western Hemisphere markets are also trending significantly higher than a year ago.

While September exports of US lamb were up only slightly from a year ago at 948 mt, value climbed 39% to $1.6 million. Through September, lamb exports were up 5% to 9,945 mt, valued at just under $14 million (up 11%). Shipments increased to leading market Mexico and trended higher to the Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Guatemala and Honduras.

Variety meat exports a bright spot in 2021

Halstrom explained that a rebound in pork and beef variety meat exports, which took a step back last year amid COVID-related production obstacles, has been a strong source of momentum in 2021, reflecting exceptional global demand for high-value protein.

"The increase in the variety meat capture rate, and the resulting increase in exports, is especially encouraging because the labor and transportation challenges certainly have not gone away," Halstrom explained. "But these items are commanding a strong premium overseas, making it more feasible to get them into international commerce. Variety meat exports are a great complement to our strong domestic and international demand for muscle cuts, helping maximize carcass value."

China's demand for US pork variety meat has remained strong even as muscle cut exports to China have eased, helping push total January-September pork variety meat exports 17% above last year to 405,744 mt, valued at $949.1 million (up 26%).

Beef variety meat exports, led by strong increases in Japan, Mexico, Central and South America and the ASEAN region, were 10% above last year at 226,755 mt, with value up 19% to $762.2 million.

A detailed summary of the January-September red meat export results, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.

US Meat & Export Federation

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