China Emerges as a Leading Destination for U.S. Beef Exports

China’s demand for beef is breaking records and imports have increased to unprecedented levels in recent years. Since 2010, Chinese beef imports (carcasses and muscle cuts) increased from less than $100 million to nearly $12.5 billion by 2021 (14,000% increase), making China the world’s largest beef importing country (UN Comtrade, 2022). In years past, beef was not a major protein source in China, but economic growth and exposer to western diets has increased beef awareness. Due to several factors (higher incomes, health awareness, protein shortages due to African swine fever), Chinese consumers have diversified their diets away from pork, the traditional animal protein (Muhammad et al. 2022). Beef demand is outstripping supply in China, resulting in rising imports. Consequently, U.S. beef exports to China have increased to record levels.

It was not that long ago that the Chinese government banned U.S. beef after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003. Almost 14 years later (May 2017), the China government reopened its market to U.S. beef, but not without restrictions. In January 2020, however, the United States and China signed the Phase One Trade Agreement, where China expanded the scope of beef products imported, eliminated age restrictions on slaughtered cattle, and recognized the U.S. beef traceability system. As a result, U.S. beef exports to China significantly grew. Since 2017, U.S. beef exports to China grew from $31 million to $1.6 billion in 2021, an increase of 4,800% increase (Hanzel 2021; USDA, FAS 2022).

Figure 1 shows the volume in metric tons (MT) of U.S. beef and beef product exports to major destination markets: Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, and China. In 2017, when the Chinese market was reopened to U.S. beef, sales to China were less than 3,000 MT and a fraction of sales to other major markets. In 2021, however, China became the 4th largest destination for U.S. beef and beef product exports (191 thousand MT), behind Japan (318 thousand MT), South Korea (277 thousand), and Mexico (201 thousand). Year-to-date exports in 2022 suggest that China will be the 3rd leading destination, and possibly the 2nd leading destination if this trend continues. Note that exports in 2022 to all major destinations except China have either decreased (Japan, Mexico, and Hong Kong) or remained relatively the same when compared to last year. Exports to China, however, increased to 192 thousand MT as of September 2022, a 39% increase when compared to the previous year. At this rate, U.S. beef exports to China will be on par with South Korea and Japan.

Figure 1. U.S. beef and beef product exports by major destination country: 2017-2022

Source: USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS) (2022)


Hanzel, M. (2021). Beef – New to China Market Product Report. 2021. Report Number: CH2021-0016. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service.

Muhammad, A., C. Valdes, K. DeLong, and C. Grebitus (2022) “The Rise of Beef Demand in China: How Competitive is U.S. Beef when compared to Brazil and Other Major Exporters?” Arizona Food Industry Journal, Dec. 2022 (forthcoming)

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service (2022). Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS)

Author: Andrew Muhammad

Professor and Blasingame Chair of Excellence

Muhammad, Andrew . “China Emerges as a Leading Destination for U.S. Beef Exports.Southern Ag Today 2(49.4). December 1, 2022. Permalink