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China not a factor in U.S. beef exports . . . yet

The latest beef trade data for November shows continued improvement in beef exports. November beef exports were 260.7 million pounds, up 2.7% over exports in November, 2016. Beef exports have increased year over year each month in 2017 for the first 11 months of the year. For the year-to-date, beef exports are up 13% over one year ago.

Beef exports to the five major destinations are each up for the year-to-date. Exports to Japan are up 27.6% year over year. Japan is the largest U.S. beef export market and accounts for 29.5% of total exports for the year-to-date. Second largest is South Korea, up 6.1% through November and representing 16.6% of total exports. Mexico is the third largest beef export market, up 7.5% for the year-to-date and accounting for 14.7% of beef exports. An 11.1% year-over-year increase in beef exports to Hong Kong makes it the fourth largest export market, slightly larger than No. 5 Canada. Hong Kong accounts for 11.1% of beef exports with Canada at 10.9%. These five markets represent 82.8% of total beef exports for the first 11 months of 2017.

There is much interest in the market potential for U.S. beef in China since access was achieved in 2017. Monthly beef exports to China are still very small but appear to be growing sporadically. In November, beef exports to China were 1.97 million pounds, making China the 10th largest U.S. beef export market. This level was slightly less than beef exports to the Philippines and represented 0.75% of total November beef exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service has projected that China will import 2.26 billion pounds of beef in 2018. At the current level, U.S. beef exports to China would represent roughly 1% of Chinese beef imports. If the U.S. were to increase beef exports to China tenfold to a 10% market share, it would make China the fifth largest beef market for beef exports and add roughly 10% to total U.S. beef exports. However, growth this rapid seems unlikely in 2018. Such a level may be more feasible in three to five years. Still, it is difficult to anticipate how markets will evolve and growth could happen more quickly than is apparent now.

Total U.S. beef exports are projected to increase another 2.5 to 3.5% year over year in 2018 to a new record level. This is expected to include some growth in exports to China but the total contribution of beef exports to China is likely to remain limited in the near term. Longer term, there is great potential for U.S. beef in China.

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