OAKLAND (CBS SF) — An ‘extraordinary’ surge in meat exports to Asia, particularly to China, has helped the sprawling Port of Oakland recover from the economic doldrums of the COVID pandemic.

According to data released Wednesday, Oakland exported the equivalent of 25,200 20-foot containers of beef through July. Shipping officials were estimating the total value of beef exports to Asia at $1.5 billion in the first seven months of 2021.

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“Demand for high-qualify U.S. meat products is off the charts,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes in a news release.

Asian markets have received nearly all of the beef exported from Oakland this year as measured by container volume, the Port said.

The percentage breakdown by country:

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  • Japan, 55 percent
  • China, (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), 24 percent
  • South Korea, 19 percent

Port officials said a soaring demand for U.S. beef in China was driving the export boom. American-produced beef accounts for 5 percent of all containerized exports to China.

COVID-related restrictions on restaurant dining, officials said, have sparked the jump in Asian retail beef sales.

And the surge could be even higher.

Shortages of containers and vessel space has restricted exports throughout 2021. Shortages of refrigerated containers – essential for beef shipments – have been particularly acute.

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The beef arrives in Oakland inside rail cars. It’s then transferred to temperature-controlled storage facilities in the heart of the Oakland Seaport, loaded into containers and loaded on waiting ships.