While May was expected to be the month in which U.S. pork exports were most affected by A-H1N1 influenza, the effect has not been as negative as some analysts had predicted, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). At the same time, U.S. beef exports for the first five months of 2009 remain roughly on par with 2008.

U.S. beef muscle cuts plus variety meat exports remain on a pace roughly equal to last year, totaling 358,190 metric tons [789.7 million pounds (lb.)] valued at $1.2 billion through May. This represents a 1% increase in volume and a 3% decline in value compared to the same period in 2008.

Individual market results have been extremely mixed, due in large part to the varied effect of the global economic recession. Despite limited market access for U.S. beef, Japan has increased its imports by 21% in volume to 29,198 metric tons [64.4 million pounds (lb.)] and 22% in value ($152.6 million) over last year. Though Mexico remains the No. 1 destination for U.S. beef exports, a struggling economy — which suffered a further setback due to A-H1N1 influenza — has led to a 21% decline in U.S. beef exports there for a total of 128,875 metric tons [284.1 million (lb.)] and a 24% drop in value to $419.1 million.

In addition to Japan, beef exports have increased sharply to Vietnam (up 86% in volume and 124% in value over January-May of last year) and Hong Kong (up 41% in volume and 23% in value).

Other markets showing declines include Canada (down 11% in volume and 16% in value from 2008), Taiwan (down 10% in volume and value) and the Philippines (down 38% in volume and 32% in value). Russia’s imports of U.S. beef have increased 22% in volume but have declined 46% in value, as the market has shifted away from the U.S. muscle meats it was purchasing in large quantities last year and is now importing mostly variety meat.

“U.S. beef is faring reasonably well, considering the economic challenges we have before us and the tendency for consumers to shift to lower-cost proteins in tough economic times,” said USMEF Chairman-elect Jim Peterson, a cattleman from Buffalo, Mont. “But clearly this is not the pace at which we want beef exports to remain. We need to resolve some the market access issues that are holding us back in markets like Japan and Taiwan, rebuild demand in key markets like Mexico, and capitalize on new opportunities in emerging markets.”