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USMEF reports record-breaking beef exports in March

06 May 2021

US exports of beef and pork posted record highs in March 2021, according to data released by the USDA and analysis from the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

US red meat exports ended the first quarter on a very high note, with March beef and pork exports each posting the highest monthly value on record. Pork exports and shipments of beef muscle cuts also set new volume records in March.

Beef exports totaled 124,808 metric tonnes (mt) in March, up 8% from a year ago and the second largest of the post-BSE era. Export value broke the $800 million mark for the first time at $801.9 million, up 14% year-over-year. Beef muscle cut exports set new monthly records for both volume (98,986 mt, up 13% from a year ago) and value ($718.3 million, up 17%). For the first quarter, beef exports pulled even with last year’s pace at 333,348 mt, valued at $2.12 billion. For beef muscle cuts, first quarter exports increased 4% to 262,914 mt, valued at $1.9 billion (up 5%).

“It’s very gratifying to see such an outstanding breakout month for US beef and pork exports,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Exports were off to a respectable start in 2021, considering the logistical and labor challenges the industry is facing and ongoing restrictions on the foodservice sector in many key markets. While these obstacles are not totally behind us, the March results show the situation is improving and the export totals better reflect the strong level of global demand for U.S. red meat.”

While muscle cuts certainly drove March export growth, Halstrom was also encouraged by a rebound in shipments of beef and pork variety meat.

“The tight labor situation at the plant level has been especially hard on variety meat volumes,” Halstrom said. “But March variety meat exports matched last year’s performance for pork and were the largest of 2021 on the beef side. It’s important that the capture rate for variety meat continues to improve, as this is a critical component of the export product mix.”

Beef exports soar to Korea and China, rebound in Latin America

Beef export value equated to $348.66 per head of fed slaughter in March, up 13% from a year ago, pushing the first quarter average to $335.45 per head (up 6%). March exports accounted for 14.7% of total beef production and 12.5% for muscle cuts, up from 13.9% and 11.3%, respectively, last year. The first quarter ratios were 14.1% of total beef production (up slightly from a year ago) and 11.9% for muscle cuts (up from 11.4%).

Beef exports to South Korea were strong again in March at 24,104 mt, up 7% from a year ago, valued at $175.9 million (up 6%). For the first quarter, exports were 8% ahead of last year’s pace in both volume (68,996 mt) and value ($503.9 million), making Korea this year’s leading value destination for US beef. Korea is buying more US chuck roll, short plate, shoulder clod, and loin cuts even as imports from Australia also trend higher, reflecting the country’s strong demand for beef.


March beef exports to China were far above last year’s low totals and reached a new monthly record of 14,552 mt, valued at $109.9 million. This pushed first quarter exports more than 1,500% above last year’s pace in both volume (31,058 mt) and value ($234.1 million), and exports increased about 25% from the strong fourth quarter of 2020. US beef accounted for 3.4% of China’s first quarter imports, up from less than 1% at this time last year, and the US is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China. Additional US plants were approved for export to China in April, raising the prospects for further growth in coming months.

Japan remains the top volume market for US beef, with first quarter exports 9% below last year’s pace at 75,409 mt, valued at $485.2 million (down 7%). March exports were impacted by a higher safeguard tariff rate, which was triggered 18 March and remained in effect for 30 days. The tariff rate for US beef muscle cuts is now 25%, down from the 38.5% rate imposed during the safeguard period and mirroring the rate Japan has applied to imports from other major suppliers since 1 April.

Other first-quarter results for U.S. beef exports include

  • Beef exports to Mexico were down slightly from a year ago in March at 17,797 mt, but increased 3% in value to $82 million. For the first quarter, exports to Mexico were 14% below last year’s pace at 51,131 mt valued at $245.1 million (down 17%).
  • Led by a record month for Honduras and strong growth in Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, first quarter beef exports to Central America climbed 22% from a year ago to 5,223 mt, valued at $30.4 million (up 25%).
  • March beef exports to Taiwan were the largest of 2021 at 4,905 mt, but still declined 14% from a year ago. For the first quarter, exports to Taiwan were 20% below last year’s record pace at 12,543 mt, valued at $118.3 million (down 13%). However, Taiwan’s first quarter imports of US chilled beef were up 8% from a year ago and US chilled beef market share increased from 74% to 78%.
  • Sharply higher shipments to Colombia pushed first quarter beef exports to South America to 6,903 mt, up 4% from a year ago, with value up 11% to $34.5 million. First quarter exports to leading market Chile increased 3% to 2,510 mt, with value jumping an impressive 39% to $19 million, with March shipments rebounding to the highest level since 2019.
  • March beef exports to the Philippines set a new record at 2,091 mt, up 16% from a year ago. Led by growth in the Philippines and Indonesia, the ASEAN region was a first quarter bright spot for US beef variety meat, with exports up 12% in volume (4,603 mt) and 11% in value ($9.8 million).

Read the full analysis here

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