U.S. red meat set for record exports, despite high prices and trade barriers

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2014 -- U.S. exports of beef and pork should set a record this year, with a combined total value of $13 billion, Mark Jagels, chairman of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), said today during a conference call from the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Arlington, Virginia

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While I'm optimistic we can further our success of demand for U.S. meat …at every turn we face a growing field of competitors,” he said, noting that 2014 has been a strong year for U.S. meat exports despite new trade barriers and challenges.

Joel Haggard, the federation's senior vice president for the Asia Pacific region, said the U.S. has been able to keep pork export pork volumes steady to Asia, but with Europe increasing its exports to the region, U.S. market share is declining.

“China's pork sector continues to modernize,” he added. China's pork production is up 3 percent, causing some softness in global pork trade, considering the nation is the largest pork importer in the world.

For U.S. beef, “We see record values for some of our beef export cuts going to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” Haggard said, noting that China has also become the world's largest beef importer.

Chad Russell, regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic, said U.S. beef exports to Mexico are up 19 percent this year, and pork exports are up 17 percent. The U.S. is in its 20th year of NAFTA, and the “red meat industry has benefitted greatly from the free trade agreement,” Russell said, adding that the U.S. industry is well placed to take advantage of duty-free access to the Mexican market.

He did note that food service and restaurants in Mexico are increasingly shifting to poultry, due to high prices for U.S. beef and pork, but grocery retailers continue to be solid red meat purchasers.

John Brook, regional director for Europe, Russia and the Middle East, said he does not anticipate any change to the political situation in Russia, which has halted U.S. and European food imports. He noted that the U.S. was ready to provide Russia with ractopamine-free pork this year before the embargo began in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

“We are ready if there was to be any change in that situation,” Brook said, especially for U.S. beef exports. “Russian restaurants are desperate for quality beef.”

Over the next year, USMEF will explore alternative markets in the Middle East, he said.

Regarding the European Union, he said it is “remarkable to see how demand for U.S. beef has remained so robust in Europe despite the ever increasing cost.”

Brook said premiums for U.S. loin cuts of beef are 60-80 percent higher than domestic or South American cuts, but the U.S. beef quality is far superior.

However, the EU's duty-free beef quota filled in the first quarter of the year and will be filled throughout the rest of the year, Brook said. Beef imports beyond the quota face customs duties. 

While EU imports of U.S. beef have expanded every year under the quota, its imports of Australian and Uruguayan beef have recently grown at a faster pace.

USMEF is encouraging European importers to increase the value of the whole carcass and encouraging chefs to use a wider variety of cuts in their restaurants, Brook said.

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