The increased role of trade in the last decade for beef, pork and poultry highlights the importance of trade to all the meat markets. While trade of the meats individually is the focus of each industry, it is apparent that all meat sectors are increasingly affected by the trade of each meat. This is especially the case when trade policies that will affect all meats are considered. Changes or disruptions in trade of individual meats often has impacts on other meats in various international markets and has impacts on domestic meat supplies, consumption and prices in U.S. markets.
Net exports of combined beef, pork and poultry have increased over time. Imports of all meat have been relatively constant at about 4.7 percent of domestic meat production since 1960. 1992 was the first year that meat exports exceeded meat imports resulting in positive net meat exports. Exports of meat have averaged 12.3 percent of production since 1992 compared to 1.3 percent from 1960 to 1991. Exports of meat exceeded five percent of production for the first time in 1992 and grew rapidly for beef, pork and poultry in the 1990s with total meat exports exceeding 10 percent of production by 1996. Total meat exports have exceeded double-digit percentages of production since 1996 except for 2004, which dropped briefly to 9.5 percent of total production (largely due to reduced beef exports as a result of BSE). With lower meat imports in recent years and continued strong exports, net meat exports have exceeded double-digit levels since 2008, averaging 12.0 percent from 2008-2016 with exports averaging 16.1 percent and imports averaging 4.1 percent of production. 2016 net meat exports were 11.0 percent of domestic production, up from 2015 levels but lower than peak net exports of 13.7 percent in 2011 and 2012. Net meat exports are expected to continue improving year over year in 2017 with exports increasing and imports declining year over year. Net meat exports are projected to approach 12 percent of production in 2017 assuming no unexpected changes or disruptions. Any number of disease incidents or political changes in the U.S. or globally could impact this forecast.
The top five countries for total meat exports in 2016 were: Mexico (23.6 percent); Japan (12.9 percent); Canada (8.3 percent); South Korea (6.3 percent) and Hong Kong (5.4 percent). The top five countries accounted for 56.5 percent of meat exports with the NAFTA market accounting for 31.9 percent and the three Asian markets accounting for 24.6 percent of total meat exports. These five countries accounted for 82.6 percent of beef exports; 74.7 percent of pork exports and 32.2 percent of poultry exports. All five countries were important markets for beef, pork and poultry in 2016, with the exception of no poultry exports to Japan and less than five percent of total poultry exports going to South Korea. Other important markets tend to be dominated by individual meats. For example, 85.7 percent of Caribbean meat exports are poultry (4.7 percent of total meat exports); China, 99 percent is pork (3.5 percent of total meat exports); and Taiwan, 87.7 percent is beef (1.1 percent of total meat exports).
Meat imports are heavily dominated by beef imports, which accounted for 71.1 percent of meat imports in 2016. Pork accounted for another 25.8 percent of meat imports. Beef trade is much more complex than other meats with many diverse product markets and the massive impact of the ground beef market. In 2016, it is estimated that 45 percent of U.S. domestic beef consumption was ground beef. An estimated 71 percent of beef imports were trimmings used for ground beef; with imported trimmings providing about 48 percent of the lean trimmings needed for ground beef production.