The U.S. exported record amounts of pork and posted very strong numbers for beef sales around the globe in March, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new USDA data compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

U.S. pork exports, fueled by extraordinary demand from China and Hong Kong, rose to a record for March. The U.S. shipped 291,459 metric tons of pork to foreign buyers in March, a 38% increase from a year ago, according to the newly released analysis by USMEF.

Strong growth in Japanese demand, where tariffs have fallen thanks to the recent trade agreement with the U.S., helped push U.S. beef exports up to 115,308 metric tons in March, a 7% increase from a year ago. U.S. exports to Taiwan, Canada Mexico and South Korea were also up.

“March export results were very solid, especially given the COVID-19 related headwinds facing customers in many international markets at that time,” USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom said in a statement. “Stay-at-home orders created enormous challenges for many countries’ foodservice sectors, several key currencies slumped against the U.S. dollar and logistical obstacles surfaced in some key markets — yet demand for U.S. red meat proved very resilient.”

Upcoming data may shop a dip in meat exports for April and May, reflecting the difficulty of producing meat in the U.S. after closures and slowdowns at U.S. packing plants, Halstrom said.

"These are truly unprecedented circumstances, creating an uncertain global business climate," he said. "The U.S. meat industry has spent decades developing a loyal and well-informed customer base throughout the world, which has embraced the quality and value delivered by U.S. red meat. Their commitment to U.S. products during this crisis is much-appreciated."

Other highlights from the new March data show rising pork exports to Japan and a strong growth in beef sales to China.

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The U.S. exported 1,888 metric tons of beef to China in the first three months of 2020. That’s an 8% increase from the first quarter last year, but trade is expected to grow at a much faster pace in coming months thanks to the “phase one” trade deal.

“The agreement’s red meat trade provisions, which significantly expand access for U.S. beef, were implemented March 20 so the impact will be more evident in the second quarter,” USMEF said in the report.

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