FoodEx Japan 2024

Beefing up activity: US hopes to drive Japan exports as tourism rebounds and retail opportunities emerge

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Beef export volume to Japan in 2023 dropped 22% to 243,019mt, while value declined to $1.8bn. GettyImages
Beef export volume to Japan in 2023 dropped 22% to 243,019mt, while value declined to $1.8bn. GettyImages

Related tags Pork Beef Japan

The US is hoping to see a resurgence in beef exports to Japan on the back of a post-pandemic increase in tourism and new retail opportunities, after reporting a 23% drop in 2023 to shipments valued at $1.8bn.

The sector has been ramping up its activity in the country in recent weeks with a significant presence at both FoodEx Japan, which FoodNavigator- Asia attended, and the Japan Supermarket Trade Show.

Trade body the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) said FoodEx Japan provided a significant opportunity to engage an audience eager for premium beef and pork, as well as cultivate enduring relationships with Japan’s retail giants.

It comes after beef export volume to Japan in 2023 dropped 22% to 243,019mt, while value declined to $1.8bn.

The association said the weak yen, Japan’s high import duties and declining disposable incomes had hurt beef demand, but the recent rebound in tourism is driving some optimism in the foodservice sector.    

“There is no question that 2023 was a challenging year for US beef exports, especially in our largest Asian markets where economic conditions have weighed on foodservice demand,” USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom said.

“Of course, we were also challenged on the supply side, with less product available for export. But nevertheless, U.S. beef achieved excellent growth in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and we are encouraged by the December uptick in demand in South Korea and China. It was also great to see such strong per-head export value in December, topping $430.”

South Korea is the US’s biggest beef market, but exports fell 16% to 248,562mt.

Export value was down 22% but still reached $2.13 billion, marking the third consecutive year that exports to Korea topped $2 billion.

On another high note, the U.S. industry captured a record 68% of Korea’s chilled beef imports in 2023.

Beef exports to China declined 22% to 189,191mt, valued at $1.6bn (down 25%). The news was more encouraging in Hong Kong, where business travel and tourism continue to rebound from the impact of prolonged COVID-related restrictions. In 2023, beef exports to Hong Kong increased 14% year-over-year to 39,506mt, valued at $415 million – up 6%.

Overall, 2023 beef exports totalled 1.29m mt, down 12% from the 2022 record. While export value fell 15% to just under $10 billion, this was still the third highest annual value for beef exports.

Pork progress

US pork exports fared far better in 2023, with export values hitting a record $8.16 billion, up 6% from 2022.

Export value per head slaughtered also set an annual record of nearly $64. Export volume was 2.91 million mt, up 8% year-over-year and the third largest on record.

“2023 saw tremendous growth in global demand for US pork, and it came at a time when the industry needed it most,” added Halstrom, who noted huge growth in demand from Mexico.

“The expansion of US pork’s presence in Mexico has been remarkable but the great news certainly doesn’t end there. We are very encouraged by the robust demand we’ve seen throughout the Western Hemisphere and in a number of Asia Pacific markets as well.”

However, for the full year, pork exports to Japan declined 4% to 342,163mt. While export value fell 5% to $1.4 billion, Japan remains the second highest value destination for U.S. pork, trailing only Mexico.

Across Asia as a whole, China, pork variety meat exports reached new heights in 2023, climbing 9% year-over-year to 585,806mt, valued at $1.37 billion (up 7%).

Variety meat exports also increased impressively to ASEAN, Canada, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Taiwan. China remained the largest destination for variety meat shipments at, 335,591 mt (down 1% from 2022), valued at $854.6 million (up 1%).

Meanwhile 2023 pork exports to South Korea increased 9% above the previous year at 191,262mt, the third largest on record. Export value increased 4% to $633.4m, the second highest on record.

Pork exports to ASEAN reached 64,158mt in 2023, up 22% year-on-year. Export value declined slightly, falling 4% to $150m.

Exports to Malaysia, where Asian swine flu has weighed heavily on domestic production, soared by a staggering 1,700% to 5,170mt, valued at $16.3m (up more than 1,500%).

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