Wednesday, 20 May 2020
The US is a key market for our red meat exports, with work ongoing to get UK beef on plates across America and pork shipments continuing across the pond despite the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier this year, our ambitions for exporting UK beef to the US took a positive step forward with news that authorities had agreed equivalence standards on the UK’s disease control measures following a three-week inspection that took place last year.
This was welcome news for our beef producers and exporters as a deal with the US could be worth £66m over the first five years. The opportunity to ship beef to one of the biggest markets in the world is a fantastic testament to the high standards and global reputation of our red meat here in the UK and once the final administrative details are signed, we look forward to seeing the first shipments arrive in America.
Whilst this work continues at pace, there have been many significant challenges since that announcement in March. Obviously, coronavirus has impacted the US, as it has the rest of the world, with meat production also feeling the effects of the pandemic. We have seen that the outbreak has led to the temporary closure of at least 30 meatpacking plants in the US, resulting in a 40 per cent drop in pork production capacity and a 25 per cent reduction for beef.
As a result, President Trump invoked the 1950 Defence Production Act to mandate meat plants stay open after companies began to warn of potential meat shortages in the US. These disruptions mean US consumers could see 30 per cent less meat in their supermarkets by the end of May – with prices 20 per cent higher than last year.
Upcoming data could possibly show a drop in US meat exports for April and May, reflecting the reduction in meat production following an incredibly strong March, when exports of pork rose to record levels – up 38 per cent compared to the previous year, fuelled by extraordinary demand from China and Hong Kong.
And while the UK’s pork exports to the US have continued this year, we have seen the numbers slowly decrease due to the 25 per cent tariff imposed last year – creating a challenge for the country’s producers. However, due to the tight supplies of pig meat in the US market, the wholesale price of pork has risen, which could create an opportunity for our exporters.
But as we look to the future and try to imagine how trade will look after these unprecedented weeks and months, we know that the US will remain a significant and valuable market for UK meat and we’ll wait to see how trade talks between the two countries progress in the hope that the special relationship extends to our red meat exports.