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Slump Continues for Beef, Pork Exports

Published: Aug 13, 2009

The lingering global economic slump and low prices for domestic beef and pork products in key export markets contributed to declines in both U.S. beef and pork exports in June, while lamb exports continue to enjoy a strong year, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Through the first six months of the year, 2009 is still shaping up as the second-best year for U.S. pork exports, but it remains 9 percent behind 2008 in terms of volume and 7 percent in value.  Thus far in 2009, the U.S. has exported 925,339 metric tons (more than 2 billion pounds) of pork and pork variety meat valued at nearly $2.2 billion.

Compared to export totals in June of 2008 – the second-highest single month totals in history – combined pork and pork variety meat exports were down 31 percent in June of 2009, totaling 133,594 metric tons (294.5 million pounds) valued at $320.4 million.

“The H1N1 influenza virus has been an important factor for U.S. pork exports,” said Jon Caspers, USMEF chairman and a pork producer from Swaledale, Iowa.   “We have had market access issues in two of our top six pork export markets (China and Russia), which makes it all the more important to maintain a strong presence in our other key markets.”

To ensure that U.S. red meat products maintain a high profile in key markets, USMEF is employing a variety of tactics to support beef and pork exports.

“In challenging economic conditions like these, there is no one silver bullet that will drive exports, so we are looking at a whole spectrum of marketing and education programs that can be tailored to the specific market,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO.    “For example, we are taking the American Beef Club concept popularized in Russia and the European Union and introducing it in the Philippines.  We are conducting pork cooking competitions at four-star hotels in Japan.  We are training chefs in Cambodia, conducting junior chef competitions in the Middle East and providing instruction to meat buyers in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.”

In the No. 1 market for U.S. pork exports, Mexico, USMEF recently conducted an extensive training program for personnel in the hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) sector to familiarize them with U.S. red meat.  Mexico has rebounded well from its experience with the flu virus, and U.S. pork exports there are up 52 percent in volume to 248,694 metric tons (658.5 million pounds) for the first half of 2009.  The value of those exports is up 37 percent to $369.6 million.  In June of 2009 versus one year ago, pork exports were up 22 percent in volume but slipped 4.3 percent in value as consumers continue to look for more affordable menu options.

The United States’ No. 2 pork market, Japan, also is up for the first half of the year.   Volumes rose 1 percent to 223,290 metric tons (492.3 million pounds) while the value of those exports is up 13 percent to $808 million.  For the month of June, export volumes to Japan dipped 13.5 percent versus a year ago while the value of the exports slipped just under 6 percent.

On the flip side, exports to the No. 3 market, the greater China/Hong Kong region, are off just over half for the year, dropping 52 percent in volume (to 121,412 metric tons or 267.7 million pounds) and 54 percent in value to $203.3 million.   Russia, the No. 6 pork export market, has seen volumes drop 35 percent to 60,826 metric tons (134.1 million pounds).  The value of pork exports to Russia is down 37 percent compared to the first half of 2008, reaching $123.9 million.

The story is not the same for exports of pork muscle cuts and variety meat in the first half of 2009 versus 2008: pork variety meat exports are up 27 percent in volume to 245,984 metric tons (542.3 million pounds), and the value of those exports is up 29 percent to $379.2 million.   At the same time, the market for pork muscle cuts is down 18 percent in volume to 679,355 metric tons (nearly 1.5 billion pounds) valued at almost $1.8 billion, a 12 percent decline.

Beef muscle cuts up, variety meat down

Beef (combined muscle cuts and variety meat) exports have fared slightly better than pork, declining two percent in volume and six percent in value for the first half of 2009, reaching 435,260 metric tons (959.6 million pounds) valued at almost $1.5 billion.   For the month, beef export volumes slipped 13 percent and the value fell 16 percent.

The success of beef muscle cuts versus variety meat is the opposite of pork: beef muscle cut exports have increased four percent over the first half of 2009 to 284,388 metric tons (almost 627 million pounds) valued at $1.2 billion – a 1 percent increase over 2008.   And for the month of June, beef muscle cuts increased 2.5 percent in volume while the value slipped just over 4 percent.  This was the largest monthly beef muscle cut export volume since last October.

At the same time, U.S. beef variety meat exports are down 12 percent in volume (150,872 metric tons or 332.6 million pounds) for the first six months of 2009 while the value of those exports has slipped 26 percent to $275.8 million.  For the month, exports of beef variety meat were down 40 percent from last June.  Of note, exports to the United States’ top three beef variety meat markets were down significantly in June: Mexico was down 59 percent to 7,100 metric tons (15.7 million pounds), the lowest monthly volume since 2005.  The No. 2 variety meat export market, the Middle East was down 21 percent in June to 6,143 metric tons (13.5 million pounds) while exports to Russia – the No. 3 market – were off 46 percent at 1,301 metric tons (2.9 million pounds). On a positive note, variety meat exports to Canada and Japan were up 23 and 121 percent, respectively.

Of the leading U.S. beef (muscle cuts plus variety meat) export markets, Japan has been the biggest bright spot, increasing 9.6 percent in volume and 9.7 percent in value during June versus one year ago.  For the first six months of the year, beef export volume to Japan is up 17 percent to 40,316 metric tons (88.9 million pounds) valued at $209.4 million – an 18 percent hike.  Japan is the No. 3 market for U.S. beef in terms of value, and No. 4 in volume.

The No. 4 U.S. beef export market when measured in value, the ASEAN region, is another growth area, with six-month beef export totals up 35 percent in volume (32,933 metric tons or 72.6 million pounds) and 56 percent in value ($105 million), although the region was down sharply in June versus last year.

The top destination for U.S. beef, Mexico, continues to struggle with its economic recovery.  Total beef exports to Mexico were down 27 percent in volume in June and are off 22 percent for the first half of 2009, reaching 155,439 metric tons (342.7 million pounds) valued at $498 million for the first six months.

The No. 2 export market for U.S. beef, Canada, saw volumes slip five percent in June while export values fell 12 percent compared to a year ago.  For the year, export volume is down 10 percent to 71,303 metric tons (157.2 million pounds) valued at $309.8 million, a 15 percent dip.

Lamb exports up

While a much smaller market than either beef or pork, the export market for U.S. lamb and lamb variety meat continues to shine.  For the first six months of 2009, export volumes are up 58 percent to 5,276 metric tons (11.6 million pounds) valued at $13.9 million, a 22 percent jump over 2008.  For the month of June, export volumes are up 119 percent and the value is up 106 percent.  Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are the top markets for U.S. lamb.

Complete June export statistics for pork, beef and lamb can be found online on USMEF’s statistics page.

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The U.S. Meat Export Federation ( is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, corn and soybean checkoff programs.