Increased beef exports to South Korea and Vietnam helped overcome declines in the beef industry’s leading markets of Mexico and Canada, says the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

February beef plus beef variety meat exports increased 4% in volume (66,155 metric tons or 145.8 million lbs.) and showed a slight increase in value ($220.5 million) over February 2008. Contrary to the trend in pork exports, beef muscle cut exports increased by 9% in volume to 40,964 metric tons (or 90.3 million lbs.) and 7% in value to $172.9 million, while beef variety meat exports dropped slightly in volume to 25,191 metric tons (or 55.5 million lbs.) and declined nearly 17% in value to $47.6 million. Year to date, beef muscle cut exports have increased 11% in both volume and value over the same period last year, while variety meat exports have declined 11% in volume and 20% in value.

Beef exports to Korea slumped near the end of 2008, with December results totaling 3,335 metric tons (7.4 million lbs.) valued at $15.2 million. But the new year has seen a rebound in exports to Korea, with the January-February monthly average now standing at 6,550 metric tons (14.4 million lbs.) with an average value of $24.9 million. This places Korea third among all destinations for U.S. beef – trailing only Mexico and Canada – in both volume and value.

Vietnam ranks fourth in volume and fifth in value for U.S. beef plus beef variety meat exports, with year-to-date exports to Vietnam doubling in volume over 2008 (to 10,972 metric tons or 24.2 million lbs.) and increasing 174% in value to $36.2 million.

Japan continues its steady rise in U.S. beef exports, with 2009 totals through February increasing by 19% in volume (to 8,056 metric tons or 17.8 million lbs.) and 17% in value (to $43.3 million).

The strong performance of these markets helped offset a slowdown in exports to Mexico, Canada and Taiwan. Though Mexico and Canada held their position as the top two destinations for U.S. beef, year-to-date exports to Mexico have declined 22% in volume (to 51,238 metric tons or 113 million lbs.) and 17% in value (to $179.1 million). Export volume to Canada declined 14% (to 18,116 metric tons or 39.9 million lbs.) and by 22% in value (to $73.1 million). Beef exports to Taiwan have dropped even more sharply, declining by 29% in volume (to 2,750 metric tons or 6.1 million lbs.) and 28% in value (to $13.3 million).

While consumers in some global markets are “trading down” in terms of the U.S. beef cuts they are purchasing, customers in Taiwan are not as well-positioned to do that because of market-access limitations.

“We’re still restricted in Taiwan to boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age,” says Phil Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “If we’re able to expand our market access there, I feel we can reverse any further declines in that market by exporting a strong volume of short ribs and other bone-in beef cuts.”

Despite continued economic uncertainty in key markets, Seng reiterates USMEF’s commitment to recapturing U.S. beef market share and growing the reach of high-quality U.S. middle meats.

“Certainly it’s a tough marketing environment for beef right now, both globally and domestically,” he says. “But we currently have some high-end cuts to offer at very competitive prices, and USMEF is having notable success with those cuts in certain markets. We’re also encouraged to see the currencies of some of our key trading partners beginning to stabilize. That will also help make U.S. beef more affordable overseas.”
-- USMEF release