Last year was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was the exceptional growth in global beef exports. When complete 2017 data is available, global beef exports are expected to total about 8 million metric tons (mt), up 5% year-over-year and very close to the 2014 record. On a value basis, exports are estimated to have totaled $35.4 billion in 2017, up 10% year-over-year but still below the 2014 peak of $37.7 billion.

For the world’s leading exporting countries, volume was up 5% to about 8 million mt, with steady to larger exports for the top four suppliers: Brazil (1.44 million mt, +9%), India (estimated 1.34 million mt, +3%), the United States (1.26 million mt, +6%) and Australia (1.2 million mt, +1%).

For the next tier of exporters, volumes were higher for Canada, the European Union, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico and Nicaragua, while exports were steady for New Zealand and declined for Paraguay and Belarus.

Led by outstanding growth in chilled beef exports ($3.38 billion, up 26%), the U.S. remained the largest exporter in the world on a value basis, posting a 15% year-over-year increase to a record $7.27 billion. U.S. export volume climbed 6% to 1.26 million mt. See detailed 2017 results for U.S. beef exports in this U.S. Meat Export Federation news release.  

Australia’s 2017 exports were up slightly from the previous year at 1.2 million mt, but down 18% from 2014-2015, when the industry was in a drought-driven period of herd liquidation. Record numbers of cattle on feed and strong global demand for grain-fed beef drove Australia’s grain-fed exports to another new record at 272,682 mt, up 5% from 2016.

Australia’s total beef exports to Japan (313,366 mt, +10%) and China (123,680 mt, +16%) recovered somewhat after being down in 2016, while exports to the U.S. (236,034 mt, -3%) continued to cool from the highs reached in 2014-2015. Exports to Korea (182,724 mt, -15%) dropped from the 2016 record, due in part to strong competition from U.S. beef.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s outlook forecasts modest growth in beef production and exports in 2018, with exports projected to grow by 3% to 1.045 million mt and production is expected to be up 1% to 2.167 million mt (carcass weight). Importantly, the outlook calls for a drop in Australia’s cattle on feed, after inventories exceeded 1 million head for the first time last year.

Despite challenges in the first half of the year and closure of the Russian market on Dec. 1, Brazil’s 2017 exports were up 9% to 1.44 million mt, the largest since 2014. Export value reached $5.95 billion, rebounding 13% from a year ago (partly reflecting a stronger real), but still well below the 2014 record of $6.87 billion.

Growth was led by China/Hong Kong (557,561 mt, up 27%) while exports to the rest of the world were up just 1% as increased volumes to Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the UAE, Israel, Singapore and Angola were largely offset by smaller exports to Egypt, the EU, and Chile. China/Hong Kong accounted for 38.5% of Brazil’s export volume, up sharply from 33% in 2016. This trend is likely to continue in 2018 unless the impasse with Russia is resolved soon.

India’s export data is only available through November, showing volume up 2% year-over-year to 1.25 million mt. Export value increased 4% to $3.74 billion. There was speculation early in the year that India’s new government would restrict cattle trading and slaughter to such a degree that its beef exports would suffer in 2017, but the actual impact appeared to be modest. However, much of India’s beef exports come from domestic water buffalo.

Vietnam continues to account for a growing share of India’s exports, taking 53% of the 2017 volume and 55% on a value basis. India’s other main destinations are Malaysia, Egypt and Iraq, which accounted for 9%, 7% and 5% of India’s 2017 export volume, respectively.

Canada’s exports were up 6% from a year ago to 381,599 mt, while export value set a new record of $1.87 billion (+8%). Volume increased not only to the U.S. (280,867 mt, +4%), but also to Japan (26,271, +27%), Mexico (17,131 mt, +6%) and several smaller markets. Exports to China (8,424 mt, +28%) were also up sharply year over year but remained well below 2015.

The rebound in exports to China was offset by a decline to Hong Kong (21,618 mt, -9%), so combined exports to China/Hong Kong were down slightly year over year at 30,042 mt. Exports were also lower to Korea (4,717 mt, -33%) and Saudi Arabia (738 mt, -61%). Excluding exports to the U.S., Canada’s beef exports totaled 100,730 mt, up 12% year over year and essentially back to 2010 levels.

New Zealand’s exports were steady with 2016 at 465,044 mt, with value up 5% to $2.25 billion. Exports were constrained by limited production and slower demand from New Zealand’s top market, the United States, where exports were down slightly to 194,882 mt. Exports were sharply higher to China (88,047 mt, +18%) and rebounded to Canada (19,936 mt, +10%), but declined to most other major markets.

EU exports were up 9% to 464,863 mt, with value increasing 20% to $1.39 billion. Exports were led by Hong Kong (86,159 mt, +57% with variety meats accounting for nearly 70% of the volume), followed by Ghana (37,703 mt, +11%) and Côte d’Ivoire (37,589 mt, +7%), which are also mostly variety meat markets. Exports also increased sharply to the Philippines (33,505 mt, +71%).

Argentina’s exports were the largest since 2009, jumping 27% year over year to reach 322,550 mt valued at $1.54 billion. Growth was driven by China, which took 30% of Argentina’s export volume.

Uruguay’s exports were the largest since 2006, and up 4% year over year to 308,000 mt. China was the dominant market for frozen Uruguayan beef, accounting for 60% of the export volume.

Data sources: Global Trade Atlas, USDA, Meat and Livestock Australia and U.S. Meat Export Federation estimate.