As the spread of COVID-19 in April slowed meat processing facilities and important Latin American trading partners lost purchasing power, U.S. beef exports fell below last year's totals and pork exports grew at a slower rate than in the first quarter.
"Considering all the challenges the U.S. red meat industry faced in April, export results were encouraging," Dan Halstrom, the president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said in a statement. "Exporters lost several days of slaughter and processing due to COVID-19, and shipments to Mexico and some other Latin American markets declined due to slumping currencies and the imposition of stay-at-home orders. But despite these significant headwinds, global demand for U.S. beef and pork remained strong."
According to new USDA data compiled by USMEF, beef exports fell 6% from last year to about $600 million. That's despite seeing a surge of growth in Japan and high demand in China. A decrease in slaughter numbers, likely due to U.S. meatpacking plant shutdowns and slowdowns, caused the beef export value per head of fed slaughter to rise 19% to $363.35.
Pork exports grew 22% from April of last year to 264,048 metric tons, the lowest level observed since last November. Due to COVID-19, production fell in April and the pork export value per head slaughtered rose 43% to $72.55. China and Hong Kong continued to be the top consumers for pork, but exports to Japan, Vietnam and Chile also increased substantially.
"International customers are relieved to see U.S. production rebounding, solidifying our position as a reliable supplier," Halstrom said. "This helps address a major concern for buyers, as COVID-19 has disrupted meat production in many countries — not just the United States."