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How Strong Are US Beef Exports?

24 June 2014

Beef prices are at record high levels, the beef production is down six per cent, but beef exports remain strong.

US beef exports in April were up 15 per cent from last year, writes Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Strong beef exports are especially significant because U.S. beef production has been down almost 6 per cent for the year and beef prices are at record high levels.

Sales to Southeast Asian countries continue to be strong. U.S. beef exports in April to Hong Kong were up almost 93 per cent , followed by South Korea up 53 per cent , and Taiwan up 9 per cent . Although exports to Japan in April were down almost 5 per cent , it was still by far the leading customer for U.S. beef. Beef exports to Mexico in April were also up over 20 per cent with Mexico being the second leading customer.

For 2014 (January-April), U.S. beef exports are up 5.5 per cent . The top five volume foreign customers for U.S. beef in order of importance were Japan (up 9 per cent ), Mexico (up 39 per cent ), Hong Kong (up 62 per cent ), Canada (down 25 per cent ), and South Korea (up 7 per cent ).

Japan regained the number one U.S. beef customer status in 2013. In February 2013, Japan again began accepting U.S. beef from animals less than 30 months of age. Japan was the leading customer prior to discovery of the first case of BSE in the U.S. in December 2003, when Japan banned U.S. beef imports. Trade for only beef from cattle slaughtered at 20 months of age or less resumed in 2005.

Russia is one of the leading importers of beef in the world. In 2012, Russia was the 6th leading destination for U.S. beef which amounted to over 6 per cent of beef exports. Beef exports to Russia had been gradually increasing for several years. However, in 2013, Russian announced that it was banning all beef, pork, and turkey from the U.S. unless it could be certified free of ractopamine. So currently, very little beef is exported to Russia.

China has quickly emerged from importing very little beef in 2011 to the fifth largest beef importer in the world. However, China does not allow beef imports from the U.S. because officials cannot agree on China's regulations related to BSE issues. Canada reached a beef export agreement with China in June 2011, and China has been a growing market for Canadian beef.

The U.S. continues negotiations with both China and Russia to gain access for U.S. beef. The beef industry remains hopeful that those negotiations will be successful in 2014.

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released the latest (through April) U.S. livestock and meat trade by country last week. The report is available at

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