Exports of US beef registered a solid performance in March, led by a surge in beef exports to Vietnam, Japan and the Middle East.

Beef plus beef variety meat exports for the month jumped by five per cent in volume over March 2008, but declined by about one per cent in value. This was due in large part to a 17 per cent decline in variety meat export value, offsetting a four per cent increase in muscle cut value. In the first quarter, beef exports increased three per cent in volume to 203,475 metric tons (448.6 million pounds) and by one per cent in value to $690.9 million. Exports accounted for 9.5 per cent of beef and variety meat production in the first quarter.

Reduced first-quarter beef exports to both Mexico (down 21 per cent in volume and value) and Canada (down 13 per cent in volume and 20 per cent in value) have placed increased pressure on other international markets in maintaining growth for US beef. Some have responded remarkably well, however, including the ASEAN region, Japan and the Middle East.

Beef exports to the ASEAN region increased 68 per cent in volume in the first quarter to 19,645 metric tons (43.3 million pounds) and doubled in value to $64 million. Vietnam led this charge, recording a 93 per cent increase in volume and a jump in value of 146 per cent.

“Southeast Asia and the Greater China Region continue to perform extremely well for US beef,” said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region. “USMEF has really laid the groundwork for growth in these markets, introducing new cuts and engaging in extensive training in the retail and foodservice sectors. It’s gratifying to see these efforts yielding such positive results.”

March beef exports to Japan climbed 58 per cent in volume and 53 per cent in value over last year, leading to increases for the first quarter of 32 per cent and 29 per cent respectively. The additional surge in March was due in part to the availability of more cattle eligible for export to this market under the 20-month age restriction – an advantage that will continue through the summer months.

Total beef exports to the Middle East actually declined slightly in the first quarter, but muscle cut exports to the region jumped by 84 per cent in volume and 41 per cent in value. While these gains were somewhat offset by a decline in beef liver exports to Egypt, the surge in muscle cut exports suggests the region is developing into an attractive destination for higher-value products.

“Although some industries have slumped recently in the Middle East, economic conditions have held up fairly well overall during the global recession,” said John Brook, USMEF regional director for Europe and the Middle East. “While this market has always been a mainstay for beef variety meats, we are clearly cultivating some broader opportunities there at this time.”

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