As trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and others, come under scrutiny, it has blurred the picture for the future of U.S. meat exports. But U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) officials said recently they are encouraged by U.S. meat exports so far this year.

Beef exports totaled 105,310 metric tons in March, up 18 percent year-over-year, with value increasing 22 percent to $588.2 million, according to the USMEF. First-quarter beef exports were up 15 percent in volume (292,215 metric tons) and 19 percent in value ($1.61 billion) from a year ago.

Beef exports to Japan, the largest value market for the United States, are up 41 percent in volume, according to USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng.

Other leading markets for the United States include Taiwan, up 28 percent; Korea, up 23 percent; Mexico, up 17 percent; and Canada, up 14 percent.

In total, U.S. beef exports are up 15...