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U.S. suppliers moved record volumes of cheese in March, finding a growing customer base in South Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region and Central America. Ingredient suppliers realized improved sales to Southeast Asia as well.
Overall, suppliers shipped 186,185 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey products, and lactose in March, the most in seven months, but down 12% from the strong performance of March 2018. Total U.S. exports were worth $538.3 million, up 4%, year-over-year. On a value basis, sales to Southeast Asia were up 41%, while sales to South Korea, Japan, the Caribbean and the MENA region were the most in at least three years.
Sales to China plummeted, with overall March volume just half of what it was a year ago, before retaliatory tariffs hurt U.S. competitiveness. China has been on a dairy spending spree so far this year with imports growing by 13% in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago, according to data reported in Global Trade Atlas. But the United States has been left out of the China expansion. Since the tariffs went into effect in July, U.S. dairy volume to China has fallen 43%, factoring in March's dismal results.
Global U.S. cheese exports were a March bright spot, totaling 37,190 tons, up 10% from the prior year. For the first time in four years, South Korea was the number-one market for U.S. cheese, buying 8,472 tons (+39%). U.S. suppliers also posted record sales to Southeast Asia (+33%) and boosted shipments to Japan (+28%), MENA (+22%) and Central America (+35%). Meanwhile, cheese exports to Mexico were down 17% in March as retaliatory tariffs on U.S. cheese shipments remain in place.
Exports of fluid milk and cream were up 3% in March, while volumes of milk protein concentrate (MPC) were the most in more than a year (+37%) and whey protein isolate (WPI) volume was the most in nearly four years (+25%).
Total U.S. whey exports were 41,469 tons, down 22% from last year. Shipments to China were just 10,946 tons, down 52%, with steep declines in volumes of whey protein concentrate (WPC) and modified whey products (mostly permeate). Sales to Japan also were lower (-37%). On the positive side, whey exports to Southeast Asia were just shy of the record high reached in August 2018.
Exports of NDM/SMP were 60,151 tons, down 10%. Sales to Southeast Asia, mostly Vietnam and Indonesia, were up 37% and the most in nearly a year. But these gains were offset by a steep drop in sales to Mexico (-21%), plus declines in shipments to Pakistan (-74%), China (-86%) and the MENA region (-46%).
(USDEC has adjusted official U.S. Bureau of Census trade data for NDM/SMP and WMP since June 2016 to account for shipments we believe are misclassified.)
Lactose exports were 35,584 tons in March, down 6%. Volumes to China (-26%) and Japan (-36%) were lower, while sales to Mexico (+53%) were a two-year high, and shipments to Southeast Asia (+2%) were the most in nearly four years.