Despite record beef exports in 2022 ($11.7 billion), there are signs of weakening beef trade for the U.S. in 2023. Note that total U.S. beef and beef product exports year-to-date (January-March) in 2023 were down in terms of value by 22% when compared to the same period in 2022, and down 8% in terms of volume. This overall decline was primarily driven by declines in sales to Asian markets, most notably the leading destinations for U.S. beef exports: Japan, South Korea, and China. In terms of value (volume), U.S. beef exports to Japan were down 20% (4%), South Korea 36% (15%), and China 21% (15%) (USDA, 2023). A noted reason for these declines is the relatively strong U.S. dollar, which has made beef exports relatively more expensive, and recent and anticipated declines in U.S. beef production.
In previous SAT articles, I highlighted the rise of China as a major buyer of U.S. beef and a major beef importing country overall. As mentioned in these articles, China emerged from relative obscurity and is now the third leading market for U.S. beef behind Japan and South Korea. In 2022, China imported $2.2 billion dollars of U.S. beef and beef products, with sales comparable to well established foreign markets: South Korea ($2.7 billion in 2022) and Japan ($2.3 billion in 2022). Unfortunately, the trade data for 2023 indicate that U.S. beef may be losing ground in the Chinese market. Figure 1 shows China’s beef imports from the U.S., as well as from all countries in 2022 and 2023 (January – March). Even as U.S. beef exports to China declined in the first quarter of 2023 from $382 million to $344 million (or 40 thousand to 38 thousand metric tons), China’s beef imports overall increased by more than $100 million and nearly 103 thousand metric tons. According to Trade Data Monitor® (2023), China imported 125% more beef from Brazil during this period (124 thousand metric tons in the first quarter of 2022 versus 280 thousand metric tons in 2023). Foreign demand for U.S. beef demand will remain a significant concern going forward as declining beef production could put even more pressure on U.S. beef prices. It appears that this is having and will continue to have a negative impact on U.S. beef exports overall and in China in particular.
Figure 1. China’s beef and beef product imports in 2022 and 2023: YTD (January – March)
USDA (2023). Global Agricultural Trade System. https://apps.fas.usda.gov/gats/default.aspx
Trade Data Monitor® (2023). https://www.tradedatamonitor.com/
Muhammad, Andrew. “U.S. Beef Exports Down in 2023 (so far) – U.S. Beef is Losing Ground in China.” Southern Ag Today 3(20.4). May 18, 2023. Permalink