LONG BEACH, Calif. — The volatile U.S. refrigerated freight trade will make a comeback in 2013 after declining in 2012, “a modest comeback but still a comeback,” Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno told the 13th annual TPM Conference. Refrigerated U.S. imports will grow 5 percent in 2013 and exports, 2 percent, Moreno predicted in the first annual JOC U.S. Reefer Trade Forecast.
Those increases in reefer traffic, following a 3.5 percent decline in imports to 16.6 million metric tons and a 2.2 percent drop in exports to 15.1 million metric tons, will be supported by modest global economic recovery and a stronger housing market, household formation and consumption in the U.S.
“The continuing global recovery will be very important as it will boost demand for U.S. food exports,” the economist said. As incomes rise, global diets become more diversified, feeding demand.
Northeast Asia was the largest market for U.S. reefer exports in 2012, increasing refrigerated imports from the U.S. by 264,000 metric tons, or 3 percent, Moreno said. The region accounted for 56 percent of U.S. reefer exports, making it by far the largest overseas reefer market for the U.S.
The next largest market, northern Europe, had a 10 percent share of U.S. reefer exports in 2012.
Drilling down to the national level, Japan was the largest export market, accounting for 34 percent of total U.S. reefer exports. Japan increased imports by 321,000 metric tons or 7 percent in 2012, according to the JOC report. China increased imports 19 percent, by about 200,000 metric tons, with U.S. meat exports to China rising 27 percent. However, mainland China took in only about 8 percent of total U.S. reefer exports, while Hong Kong and Taiwan accounted for 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. South Korea accounted for 5 percent.
The top U.S. refrigerated exports in 2012 were vegetables, which accounted for 36 percent of total exports; poultry, 19 percent; other meat, 15 percent; fruits, 6 percent; and frozen fish, 5 percent. Vegetable exports increased 4 percent year-over-year in 2012, rising by 230,000 metric tons, the report said.
U.S. meat exports rose 2.6 percent in 2012, following a 21.7 percent jump in 2011. Restrictions on U.S. meat in some nations, especially Russia, cut into export growth, Moreno told TPM. “Japan has loosened some restrictions on U.S. meat and, hopefully, that will offset some of the losses (in Russia).”
On the import side, Central America is the largest supplier of refrigerated goods to the U.S., Moreno said, accounting for 6.5 million metric tons. Oceania, with only a 7 percent share of total U.S. reefer imports, increased tonnage by 197,000 metric tons or 22 percent year-over-year, the greatest growth rate.
Guatemala accounts for one-quarter of all U.S. reefer imports, sending 2.3 million metric tons of refrigerated goods to the U.S. in 2012. El Salvador, however, made the biggest gain last year, doubling its exports to the U.S. market. Australia increased its exports to the U.S. by 37 percent.
Bananas were the largest U.S. refrigerated import in 2012, accounting for 29 percent of the total, followed by fruits, 12 percent; sugar, 12 percent; vegetables, 11 percent; and uncanned pineapples, 6 percent. Vegetables made the biggest leap in volume, however, 137,000 metric tons for an 8 percent annualized gain.