US beef exports shatter previous records in 2021

Beef exports surpassed $10 billion for the first time
calendar icon 14 February 2022
clock icon 5 minute read

US beef exports greatly exceeded previous volume and value records in 2021, surpassing $10 billion for the first time, according to year-end data released by USDA and compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

December beef exports totaled 121,429 metric tons (mt), up 1% from a year ago, while value climbed 33% to $991.8 million – the third largest month on record. These results pushed 2021 volume to 1.44 million mt, up 15% from a year ago and 7% above the previous record set in 2018. Export value soared to $10.58 billion, up 38% from 2020 and shattering the previous record (also from 2018) by 27%.

“The beef export results are truly remarkable, especially considering the COVID-related obstacles in the global foodservice sector and all the supply-side and logistical challenges faced by the US industry,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Obviously our large Asian markets accounted for much of the growth, but it really takes broad-based global demand to reach these impressive levels. So this success story is not just about Korea, Japan and China – but also a strong performance in Taiwan, excellent growth in Central and South America and a rebound in Mexico and Southeast Asia.”

Beef exports to Korea, Japan and China/Hong Kong each top $2 billion

Japan remained the leading volume destination for US beef exports in 2021 at 320,737 mt, up 5% from 2020 and the second largest of the post-BSE era. Export value climbed 22% to a record $2.376 billion, but finished a close second to South Korea. The US industry remains concerned about Japan’s import safeguard, which resulted in a higher tariff rate being imposed on US beef in late March and early April of last year. Without an adjustment to the safeguard threshold, a similar scenario is possible in 2022 and highly likely in years to come.

Beef exports to Korea totaled 280,143 mt, up 14% and eclipsing the previous record set in 2019. Export value soared 38% to $2.382 billion – not only a record for Korea, but the highest value achieved in any destination. Korea’s surging demand for US beef has been driven largely by growth in the retail sector, both in traditional retail venues and e-commerce platforms. US beef also continues to benefit from the phase-out of Korea’s import duties as the tariff rate under the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) dropped to 10.7% for 2022, down from 40% prior to implementation of the FTA.

Capitalizing on the market access gains included in the US-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, beef exports to China/Hong Kong also broke the $2 billion mark at $2.09 billion, up 114% from 2020, while volume climbed 87% to 240,827 mt. Direct exports to China, which started to gain significant traction in mid-2020, jumped 346% in volume (190,803 mt) and 413% in value ($1.59 billion). US beef accounted for 6% of China’s total imports on a volume basis and 11% by value. Grain-fed beef now accounts for an estimated 11% of China’s imports with the U.S. as the largest supplier, providing approximately 68% of China’s grain-fed imports.

Other 2021 highlights for U.S. beef exports include:

Though beef exports to Taiwan dipped slightly in volume (63,095 mt, down 1% from 2020), export value climbed to $668 million – up 21% from 2020 and breaking the previous (2019) record by more than $100 million. The U.S. continues to dominate Taiwan’s chilled beef imports, capturing 81% market share in 2021.

Beef exports to Mexico partially rebounded in 2021, through shipments remained below pre-COVID levels. Exports increased 4% from a year ago to 200,628 mt and climbed 24% in value to $1.06 billion. Mexico is the largest volume destination for beef variety meat exports, which increased 9% to 97,642 mt and jumped 16% in value to $264.1 million.

Fueled by excellent growth in a range of markets, beef exports to Central America set new records for both volume (20,991 mt, up 52% from a year ago) and value ($137.3 million, up 81%). US beef has a growing presence in the region’s rapidly expanding retail sector and has capitalized on the gradual easing of COVID-related foodservice restrictions. Beef exports to Central America have also benefited greatly from the phase-out of import duties through the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

Beef exports to Colombia surged in 2021, more than doubling year-over-over in both volume (9,359 mt, up 106%) and value ($40.7 million, up 105%) and easily surpassing 2019 records. With shipments also trending higher to Chile and Peru, exports to South America reached 31,802 mt (up 32%) valued at $177.6 million (up 82%). U.S. beef also faces zero duties in these FTA partner countries.

Led by a sharp rebound in the Dominican Republic, beef exports to the Caribbean increased 31% from a year ago to 25,098 mt, while value climbed 69% to $191.5 million. Exports also increased year-over-year to Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Exports to Indonesia set new records in 2021, reaching 27,010 mt (up 42%) valued at $118.4 million (up 65%). Indonesia is a key destination for beef variety meat, which accounted for 45% of the total export volume.

Rebounding from a down year in 2020, global exports of US beef variety meat increased 8% to 300,297 mt and set a new value record, topping $1 billion for the first time ($1.09 billion, up 24%).
Beef export value per head of fed slaughter equated to a record $407.22 in 2021, up 35% from a year ago. Exports accounted for 15% of total beef production and 12.8% for muscle cuts only, up significantly from the respective 2020 ratios of 13.5% and 11.3%.

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