Propelled by surges in sales to China, Mexico and Cuba, U.S. exports of chicken and eggs are at a record pace after the first six months of 2021, and a new analysis released Wednesday by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council says trade is expected to continue strong through the rest of the year.

The U.S. shipped about 1.9 million metric tons of broilers worth $2.1 billion to foreign buyers from January through June this year according to the USAPEEC report, which is based on the latest USDA data. That’s a 6.8% increase from the same time period last year for volume and a 21.1% increase in value. Both are records.

“Despite all of the issues that our industry has had to face over the last year and more, the export side has come through in record-setting fashion,” said USAPEEC President Jim Sumner. “This is a testament to the capabilities and efforts of our industry, and it speaks to the needs and desires of consumers around the world for U.S. poultry and eggs. Chicken is the world’s leading meat protein and eggs are a fundamental part of the diet of many people.”

U.S. chicken exports to Mexico, China, Cuba, and the Philippines were extraordinarily strong, and value records were set for trade with Mexico and China in the first half of the year.

For China, a major factor was chicken paws. U.S. producers don’t get paid much for them on the domestic market – they mostly go to rendering – but they’re a prized snack in China. China lifted a five-year ban on U.S. chicken in 2020 and exports have continued to surge ever since.

About 60% of the 217,020 tons of chicken the U.S. sent to China in the first half of this year were paws.

And as for Cuba, USAPEEC says that chicken exports “to Cuba rose by 96.6 % to 163,366 tons and, with continuing demand, will mean an all-time record this year. Exports to Cuba would likely have been even greater had it not been for the impact of the pandemic, which hurt the country’s critical tourism industry and economy.”

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U.S. egg exports are also breaking records in 2021, according to the USAPEEC analysis. Driven by strong shipments to South Korea, Mexico, and Hong Kong, total U.S. exports reached 170 million dozen in the first six months of the year, about an 18% increase over the first half of 2020.

Egg exports “to South Korea were the highest ever in both volume and value in the first half (of 2021), while shipments to Mexico and Hong Kong were the second highest,” USAPEEC said.

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