Looking back at the first quarter of 2014, Philip Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, says, "We've done very well in the export picture." Beef exports are up 8% in volume and 15% in value for the first quarter – after a record-setting year in 2013, while pork exports are up 11% in volume and value.
"I think this is a very strong accomplishment," he says, but adds that two of the biggest concerns are paucity and price. "We have to remember one of the reasons exports are up is a lot of these markets are import dependent," Seng explains. "They depend on that product."
However, competition is becoming much more intense, he says. "In my career, especially in Asia, in the past we have not seen near as much European encroachment," Seng says. "The Europeans would not get too involved in Asia, and that's all changed now. What we're seeing is a very aggressive approach by the Europeans, especially in north Asia – an area we've really been involved in."
Strong export markets in Asia Pacific
One country with rising export competition is China, although pork exports have been somewhat positive, says Senior Vice President for the Asian Pacific region for USMEF, Joel Haggard.
After recovering from the PEDV outbreak in 2011, China's pork production increased 2.8% for the first quarter of 2014. Still, U.S. pork exports to China were up 9% in volume and 19% in value for the first quarter of 2014.
Related: April Exports of U.S. Beef Continue Growth Trend
"We're up to that region in quarter one despite very strong European competition and despite [China's] increased production," Haggard says.
Japan has also been hit with PEDV. Since the disease broke in its swine herd in fall 2013, Japan's mortality rates from PEDV have been less than 1% of its annual harvest. However, Japan's domestic carcass prices have skyrocketed, and market tightness is expected to result in a 1% increase in U.S. pork exports to Japan for 2014.