USA 12.02.2024

Mixed Year for U.S. Dairy Exports: Positive Signs Emerge Despite 2023 Challenges

Source: The DairyNews
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Amidst the challenges faced by U.S. dairy exports throughout 2023, there were glimmers of positivity in the final months of the year. U.S. cheese exports saw gains in November (+4%) and December (+1%), driven by increased volumes to Mexico, China, Central America, and the Caribbean, USDEC reported.
Mixed Year for U.S. Dairy Exports: Positive Signs Emerge Despite 2023 Challenges
Additionally, U.S. nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NFDM/SMP) shipments rose 1% in December, marking the first year-over-year increase since August 2023. Notably, December shipments to Southeast Asia surged by 23%, hinting at a potential recovery in the region's demand, while fluid milk and cream closed the year with four consecutive months of year-over-year gains, posting a 15% volume increase from September to December.

However, the overall picture for U.S. NFDM/SMP exports in 2023 remained lackluster, down by 3% (-24,570 MT). Despite this decline, exports to Mexico boomed (+16%, 57,040 MT) throughout the year, showcasing the strength of the Mexican economy and the peso's consistent strengthening against the dollar.

The U.S. cheese export story in 2023, though witnessing a year-over-year decline, reached the second-highest volume ever recorded at 435,569 MT. Notable increases in shredded cheese sales, especially to Mexico and China, were driven by a 41% jump in sales to meet foodservice demand. However, challenges in Korea and Japan, coupled with heightened competition from the EU and New Zealand, impacted overall U.S. cheese sales.

High-value U.S. whey protein concentrate (WPC80+) exports set a new record in 2023, surpassing the previous volume record by over 10,000 MT. The demand for high-protein foods in key markets, coupled with lower WPC80+ prices, contributed to this banner year. U.S. WPC80+ sales to Japan, China, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and India showcased broad-based gains.

In contrast, the U.S. low-protein whey export shortfall in 2023, mainly attributed to China, resulted in a 27% decline in shipments. Despite challenges, analysts are optimistic about a potential rebound in Southeast Asia, which could improve export prospects in 2024.

U.S. lactose exports faced a minor setback in December (-3%), but overall, the year showed a 5% increase (+20,890 MT), largely driven by gains in exports to China. While lactose prices have firmed up since reaching a decade-low over the summer, the demand outlook for 2024 remains cautious due to uninspiring market conditions.

In summary, 2023 presented challenges for the U.S. dairy export market, but with positive signals emerging towards the year-end, there is cautious optimism for a more robust performance in 2024.
Lee Mielke
Lee Mielke
editor of the Mielke Market Weekly
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Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith
Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California
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February 2024
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