February meat exports still show impacts of West Coast port struggle

February meat exports still show impacts of West Coast port struggle

West Coast port labor situation hurt U.S. pork exports, though meat export tallies as a whole are recovering

While still impacted by severe congestion in the West Coast ports, February exports of U.S. beef, pork and lamb bounced back to some degree from the totals posted in January, the U.S. Meat Export Federation said, based on information from the USDA.

Related: West Coast port congestion stifles January U.S. meat exports

Conditions are steadily improving on the West Coast, where congestion related to a labor dispute slowed container traffic over the past four months. But the tentative contract agreement that eased tensions on the West Coast was not reached until Feb. 20, so this issue still had a significant impact on February meat exports.

West Coast port labor situation hurt U.S. pork exports, though meat export tallies as a whole are recovering

"We didn't see much relief from the shipping backlog until March, and container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "However, the new labor contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the U.S. meat industry to begin the process of putting this crisis behind us. The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we're looking forward to further improvement when March results are published."

In addition to port congestion, February exports also continued to face significant challenges such as the strong U.S. dollar, large supplies from key competitors and market access barriers.

February 2015 beef export numbers
February beef exports totaled 82,991 metric tons – down 3% year-over-year but a 4% improvement over January. Export value of $535.3 million was up 12% from a year ago and 6% higher than in January.

January-February volume was 162,890 mt, down 11% from the first two months of 2014, while value was 4% above last year's pace at $1.04 billion.

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February beef exports accounted for 14% of total production and 11% for muscle cuts only – ratios similar to a year ago, but higher than in January. Export value per head of fed slaughter was $318.26 in February (up 15% from a year ago) and $293.47 for January-February (up 12%).

February 2015 pork export numbers

February pork exports were 173,771 mt – down 5% year-over-year but 8% higher than in January. Export value was $470.7 million – down 7% from a year ago but 3% higher than in January.

Cumulative 2015 totals were 334,936 mt valued at $926 million, down 10% in volume and 11% in value from January-February 2014.

Related: West Coast dispute concerns meat industry, but 2014 exports still look good

February pork exports accounted for 25% of total production and 20% for muscle cuts only – lower than a year ago, but a significant improvement over January. Export value per head slaughtered was $51.86 in February (down 11% from a year ago) and $49.16 for January-February (down 13%).

"The West Coast port situation was particularly damaging for our chilled pork exports to Japan, because it compromised our ability to meet customers' shelf-life requirements," Seng explained. "The ability to ship chilled product to Japan has always given U.S. pork a distinct quality advantage over frozen pork from Europe.

"Now that we have chilled pork moving again, it is very important that we recapture this customer base. But this will not be easy, as pork from the EU continues to enter Japan at lower-than-usual prices. This is exacerbated by the strength of the U.S. dollar versus both the yen and euro," he said.

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