Economic Tidbits

Where’s the Beef Trade?

Governor Pillen proclaimed May as “Beef Month” highlighting the importance of the beef industry to the state economy. Appropriately so—cattle outnumber people in Nebraska and receipts from cattle sales typically top $11 billion. The fact that Nebraska consistently ranks as the top beef exporter among states is evidence of the sector’s importance. In 2021, Nebraska’s beef exports amounted to $1.64 billion, 15 percent of total U.S. exports.

In honor of “Beef Month” Tidbits this week explores global beef trade using the latest data and projections from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) quarterly report, Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade. According to the FAS, global beef exports have grown since 2017 from 10 million metric tons (mmt) to just over 12 million last year. And the growth is projected to continue in 2023 rising slightly to 12.07 mmt. Figure 2 shows the projected shares of the top beef exporting countries. Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporting country, capturing 25 percent of the market. The U.S., Australia, and India follow, each with approximately 12 percent of the market. U.S. beef exports are expected to decline in 2023 compared to last year due to declining beef production. The Daily Livestock Report recently noted that outstanding U.S. sales of beef are 36 percent less than a year ago, although it should be remembered last year’s exports were a record high. The decline is expected to drop the U.S. from the second to third-largest beet exporter behind India. Other large beef exporting countries include Argentina and New Zealand.  

Figure 2. Share of World Beef Exports (mmt), April 2023

Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

Figure 3 shows the largest beef purchasing countries. China is by far the largest beef importing country accounting for 34 percent of the world’s imports. Lagging is the U.S., accounting for 15 percent of total imports. The U.S. is the only country which is both a major exporter and importer of beef, exporting high-value muscle cuts and importing trimmings used in hamburger. Americans consume the most hamburger of any country in the world. Japan and South Korea are also large importers of beef. 

Figure 3. Share of World Beef Imports (mmt), April 2023

Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

Figure 4 shows the top purchasers of U.S. beef. Japan and South Korea have top markets for several years, but the rapid rise of Chinese purchases of U.S. beef catches one’s attention. Chinese purchases have risen from almost nothing in 2019 to become the third-largest purchaser in 2022. Mexico, Canada, and Taiwan have also been steady customers for U.S. products. Economic conditions, political events, and the U.S. relationship with these countries bear watching by Nebraska beef producers. Nebraska producers are closely intertwined with world beef markets. While celebrating Beef Month, it is important to remember the role world markets play in the economic health of the state’s beef producers. 

Figure 4. Top 10 U.S. Beef Export Markets ($)

Source: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

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