In the first quarter of 2008, U.S. beef exports increased 37% over the first quarter of 2007 to 117,730 metric tons (mt) (259.5 million lbs.) and beef variety meat exports increased 19% to 79,913 mt (176.1 million lbs.) for a combined 29% increase to 197,643 mt (435.7 million lbs.) – a 40% increase in value to $682.7 million, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

March exports of beef plus beef variety meat totaled 67,669 mt (149.1 million lbs.) compared with 51,005 mt (112.4 million lbs.) last year and 99,189 mt (218.6 million lbs.) in 2003. Mexico and Canada remain the top two markets. Exports to Mexico are up 21% for the quarter to 97,353 mt (214.6 million lbs.) valued at $328.7 million while exports to Canada are up 64% to 32,449 mt (71.5 million lbs.) valued at $145.4 million.

Excluding variety meat, Japan is the No. 3 market, with exports increasing 23% in the first quarter to 9,517 mt (20.9 million lbs.) with a value of $50.7 million, an increase of 33% over the previous first quarter. According to Japanese import statistics, beef imports from Australia fell 16% in the first quarter to 81,898 mt (180.5 million lbs.), but still accounted for 80% of total Japanese beef imports.

Japan’s chilled beef imports from the U.S. increased 57% during the first quarter, reflecting growth in the retail presence of U.S. beef compared with last year and an increase in the supply of U.S. beef that meets Japanese import requirements.

Vietnam has emerged as the fourth-largest market for U.S. beef, with exports valued at $23 million totaling 9,016 mt (19.8 million lbs.) in the first quarter. March exports to Vietnam were 3,600 mt (7.9 million lbs.), breaking the previous monthly record of 3,145 mt (6.9 million lbs.) set last October. Exports to Vietnam reflect the strong demand in the Greater China region amid tight supplies and high prices for both beef and pork.

Exports to Taiwan continued to increase through March, with March exports at 2,243 mt (4.9 million lbs.) up 37% from March last year and second only to the record set in November 2007. For the first quarter, exports were up 27% in volume and 37% in value (6,116 mt or 13.4 million lbs. valued at $29.76 million).

USMEF-Taiwan notes that importers are expecting higher U.S. prices with the resumption of U.S. beef exports to Korea, but also due to strong demand for beef from Australia and New Zealand in Russia and the EU. Taiwanese importers plan to continue to import U.S. beef even at higher prices, but demand could be constrained by dampened consumer purchasing power. Due to the growing popularity of yakiniku restaurants, USMEF-Taiwan plans to promote chuck short ribs, short plate, chuck flap and other low- to medium-priced cuts.

First-quarter beef exports to the EU exceeded last year’s first quarter by 263%, totaling 3,335 mt (7.3 million lbs.) valued at $20 million. The EU is facing tight supplies of beef due to restrictions on Brazilian beef imports, which permit only small volumes from less than 100 approved farms, and the impasse over Argentina’s export restrictions. Argentina has announced a complicated resolution to its beef export ban, which could result in a monthly allowance similar to the previous export quota, about 45,000 mt (99.2 million lbs.) per month. Beef exports have not yet resumed, however.

Uruguay is exporting more beef to the EU in the absence of the other South American suppliers. It is benefiting from record prices at this time of unprecedented demand and total slaughter through April was up 12% year on year. Cow slaughter increased 10%, which will lead to a future tightening of supply. At the same time, U.S. beef imports from Uruguay are down nearly 90%.

U.S. beef exports to the Caribbean were down 2% at 3,135 mt (6.9 million lbs.) but up 12% in value to $15.6 million. Exports to Jamaica, the second-largest destination following the Bahamas, increased 35% to 567 mt (1.2 million lbs.) valued at $2.6 million.

Exports to Hong Kong grew 4% over last year, due to strong volumes in January, but are still restricted to boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age. According to Hong Kong import statistics, imports from Brazil increased 77% and accounted for 42% of the total.

“While USDA data do not show significant volumes of beef exports to Russia, judging from the number of Statements of Verification (SOVs) issued by the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), exports for December 2007 through April 2008 totaled about 5,300 mt (11.6 million lbs.), including variety meat,” said Erin Daley, USMEF manager of research and analysis.

“USMEF understands that both U.S. beef and pork are extremely competitive in Russia due to relatively high prices for Brazilian beef and pork and Australian beef. Australia’s beef exports to Russia are about five times larger than last year, further reflecting the drop in exports – and higher prices – from Brazil.”

Beef variety meat exports in the first quarter increased 40% in value to $176 million. Mexico, the top destination, jumped 29% to 47,541 mt (104.8 million lbs.). Exports to the second largest market, Egypt, fell 13% to 17,950 mt (39.5 million lbs.). Exports to Russia are beginning to recover, at 1,719 mt (3.7 million lbs.), and exports to Central and South America, especially Peru, increased 79% to 1,668 mt (3.6 million lbs.). Exports to the ASEAN also increased 95% to 1,236 mt (2.7 million lbs.) in the first quarter.

For complete first quarter export statistics, go to www.usmef.org/TradeLibrary/Statistics.asp.
-- USMEF release