Exports of U.S. beef moved 3% higher in volume in May, while pork exports dipped 3% in volume, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
The tallies would be a bit better had Russia not implemented its barrier on meat trade, USMEF said.
If Russia is excluded, beef export volume for May increased 12% and export volume for the first five months of 2013 rose 3.5%, instead of falling 3%.
Similarly, May pork exports increased 3.5% in volume over last year's totals. For January through May 2013, export volume would be down 5.8% instead of 9% if Russia is not included.
"The loss of a key market like Russia ripples through the red meat industry," said U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng. "The absence of one of the largest meat purchasers in the world affects the volume of product sold and, more importantly, the price that other customers need to pay for it in a competitive marketplace."
In May, total U.S. beef (muscle cut and variety meat) exports rose 3% over last year's levels to 97,820 metric tons valued at $513.6 million, a 9% increase.
Markets where access for U.S. beef has improved this year led the way in May. Japan jumped 74%, just 8% shy of totals posted in May 2003. Beef exports also rose56% to Hong Kong, and were steady to higher for Canada, Egypt, Central/South America and the Carribean.
"We were confident that the market for U.S. beef in Japan would rebound when our access expanded," said Seng. "Our team in Japan is working aggressively to explore untapped niches to maintain the growth momentum for beef."
Besides Russia, countries where beef exports remain challenged include Mexico, South Korea and ASEAN.
Mexico is buying less beef as consumers turn to more affordable proteins like poultry and pork. U.S. poultry exports to Mexico were up 19%. At the same time, South Korea's increased domestic beef production, combined with lower-priced Australian product, has dampened demand for U.S. beef.
Overall, the volume ranking was: Japan, Mexico, Canada, Egypt, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Total pork exports in May improved over 2013 trends but still dipped 3.3%. They accounted for 23% of muscle cut production and 26.4% of muscle cuts plus variety meat, similar to last May.
May pork exports were led by another strong month for Mexico and Japan. Exports were also larger for Central/South America, ASEAN, the Caribbean and Taiwan.
"The volume of U.S. pork that Mexico consumes is essential for our industry, and that is why we have focused resources on driving up per-capita pork consumption there," Seng explained. "On the other hand, Japan is the leading value market for pork exports, and there we are concentrated on higher value branded and chilled products."
May pork exports to Canada were down 3%. Exports to the China/Hong Kong region dipped 9% in May, and exports to South Korea and Australia/New Zealand were also down.
Overall, Mexico was the largest volume destination for U.S. pork but Japan was No. 1 in value.
Canada and the Philippines were the only top markets that saw export growth in the first five months of the year, but exports were robust to many of the smaller markets. Larger domestic supplies and market access issues have created a challenging atmosphere for U.S. pork exports thus far this year but exports showed positive signs of growth in May.
Lamb exports reached three consecutive months above the 1,200 metric tons per month mark with 1,472 metric tons exported in May, an increase of 70% over last year. This put January through May totals up 14% to 5,840 metric tons with value over $13 million, up 30%. Export growth has been led by top markets Mexico and Canada, but also to Bermuda and Saudi Arabia.