US beef exports reach record level in 2018

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beef cattle feedlot
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

DENVER — 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.

Export value

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.

To 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).”

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).

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