CME: Port Dispute Partly to Blame for Poor US Meat Exports

US - The dispute between Representatives of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and West Coast port operators was one factor in another month of relatively poor US exports of meat and poultry, write Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.
calendar icon 8 April 2015
clock icon 5 minute read

ILWU locals voted to recommend ratification of the tentative labor settlement reached on February 20. Seventy-eight per cent of the delegates to a “caucus” session voted in favor of ratification.

The contract now goes to the entire union membership for a secret ballot vote, the results of which will be announced May 22 according to the Wall Street Journal.

The dispute between ILWU and West Coast port operators was one factor in another month of relatively poor US exports of meat and poultry.

It was not nearly all of the story but was still one driver of lower tonnage in last week’s numbers released by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and Economic Research Service.

We would characterize the February results as “Better than January but still not good.” Some highlights of February’s data are:

  • Pork exports totaled 377.3 million pounds carcass weight equivalent. That figure is over 30 million higher than in January but was still 10 per cent lower than one year ago. February’s exports bring the year-to-date total to 725 million pounds, down 16 per cent from one year ago. This marks the eighth straight month of less than 400 million pounds of pork being exported. That level had been somewhat of a “base” amount prior to July of 2014.

  • Mexico remained our largest market for pork in February, taking 124.4 million pounds, 11.6 per cent MORE than one year ago. Mexico, of course, was in a position to benefit from the West Coast port situation as it could buy US product at lower prices and not be limited by the slow-down in loading/unloading ships. Mexico’s February purchases over? come a year/year decline in January to put year-to-date tonnage 5.3 per cent higher.

  • February pork shipments also grew for Canada, Taiwan and, most dramatically, South Korea (see the country-by-county chart on page 2). Korea-bound shipments were 81 per cent larger than one year ago, pushing year-to-date exports to 111 million pounds, up 56 per cent from 2014. February business pushed Korea to its highest ranking among US pork markets since the hoof-and-mouth-disease fueled surge of 2011.

  • US shipments to China remain disappointing. The port situation was obviously a factor but so was RELATIVE prices. US product has be? come no more expensive in China since the renmimbi is pegged to the dollar. But other suppliers’ product has become less expensive as their currencies have lost value relative to the dollar.

  • Beef exports improved by just over 15 million pounds (9.4 per cent ) from January but remained 2.6 per cent lower than one year ago. February’s shipments brought the year-to-date total to 340.7 million pounds carcass weight equivalent. That figure is 11.4 per cent lower than one year ago.

  • Japan was the largest customer for US beef in February but, as can be seen on page 2, US beef exports are quite balanced among five major markets and “other” markets. The trouble is that shipments to all of them are lower so far this year.

  • The value of Feb beef exports was 9.2 per cent higher than one year ago while the value of Feb pork exports was down 10 per cent vs. Feb ‘14.

Avian influenza continues to spread primarily in the turkey sector. Two more new cases were reported late last week in Minnesota, first in Nobles County on Thursday, April 2 and then in Stearns County on Friday, April 3. This brings to five the number of confirmed H5N2 cases in the state. Those have been in four different counties.

The addition of Stearns to that list is concerning since it is the largest poultry county in the state.

H5N2 has also been confirmed in a commercial turkey flock in South Dakota and a backyard poultry flock in Montana. Minnesota is located in the Mississippi flyway for migratory birds while South Dakota and Montana are located in the Central flyway. But no news is good news in Arkansas where we have still heard of only the one case of HPAI. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Further Reading

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