Exports of beef and pork increased at a double-digit pace in the first quarter of 2011 and continued strong growth is projected for the rest of the year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
U.S. beef exports to the world increased 53 percent in value and 32 percent in volume in the first three months of 2011 compared to the same period last year. Pork exports were up 25 percent in value and 18 percent in volume, said Philip Seng, president and chief executive officer of the federation.
Seng spoke on a media conference call Wednesday from the U.S. Meat Export Federation meeting in Washington. Meat exports are an important segment of the containerized shipping industry and contribute to the growing U.S. agricultural export trade with Asia.
Any restraints to export growth this year are expected to result from non-commercial issues. For example, meat exports to most markets increased in the first quarter, but were down 5 percent to Mexico because of a cross-border dispute involving Mexican truck access to the U.S., Seng noted.
Beef exports to Taiwan also dropped because of that country’s “zero tolerance” involving safety standards, he noted.
China’s ban on U.S. beef imports since the 2003 mad cow issue is a significant hindrance to exports. The U.S. has cleared up such concerns with most countries, and if China ever lifts the ban, it could easily become a top 10 importer of beef.
China is a major market for U.S. pork, where pork is the meat of choice among consumers. The U.S. share of pork shipments to China jumped to 40 percent in the first quarter of 2011 from 16 percent last year.
South Korea has emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. beef, with exports to that country increasing 181 percent in the first quarter. If Congress approves the U.S. free trade agreement negotiated with South Korea, meat exports are expected to grow strongly.
Asia’s currencies are taking the lead of China and are gradually appreciating against the dollar. If this trend continues, U.S. meat exports to Asia will grow further as the weaker dollar makes U.S. exports more competitive in those markets.
Seng also encouraged support for the government’s Market Access Program, which addresses non-scientific barriers to exports of U.S. agricultural products. Although funding is tight because of the federal budget problem, the U.S. receives an economic benefit of $35 for every dollar invested in exports, Seng noted.