Just halfway into the year, U.S. beef and pork exports have reached record highs, according to data released by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Beef exports are 6% better in volume and 15% better in value compared to the record year of 2018. Pork exports are up 1% in volume and 7% from last year’s records.
The numbers are better than ever, but the U.S. could see even more business if it could get its hands on more vessels to ship around the world.
“We have a long-standing reputation as a very reliable global supplier,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF’s chairman and CEO. “And this current issue, which has been going on for at least five or six months, is a very real threat. We have a combination of things: we have container shortages, we have chassis shortages to move the containers, we have shortages of labor, of truckers to truck the containers.”
There are also global issues that are connected to news month after month that the U.S. trade deficit hits new records. As of this spring, the overall deficit exceeded $70 billion. “The demand for cargo coming from Asia to North America, in other words, the eastbound routes far exceed the demand for the westbound routes,” he said. “You’re talking differences in freight rates by three or four times. Maybe it’s a $4,000 box to go west and a $14,000 box to come east.”
Halstrom says companies are sending a higher percentage of empty containers. Instead of taking time to fill the containers here, they are turned right around to get back to places like China at a much faster pace. “Economics over time will work this out, but we’ve got to push the Federal Maritime Commission and some of these organizations, because when they take a booking and roll them week after week, that’s technically a violation of their responsibility under the Federal Maritime Act.”
Halstrom says this is happening thousands of times a week, where red meat waits frozen in the U.S. instead of being loaded and shipped to international customers. “So those numbers, … 18% for beef (increase in volume from last year) should be higher, because a lot of this meat should have shipped and hasn’t.”
Visiting last week’s Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen Beef Association’s Trade Show, Halstrom noted customers like China, South Korea and Japan have had significant beef demand.
USMEF is working to get international customers the products they’re hoping for, but labor shortages across the meat industry have continued to add pressure to the industry. In a recent radio interview Halstrom explained that these factors led many companies to innovate.