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Beef export and import adjustments

Contributed by Josh Maples Published on 11 August 2020

U.S. beef trade continues to adjust to supply and demand shocks. The latest data release from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) shows the impact of these shocks on U.S beef exports and imports.

On Aug. 6, ERS released the June 2020 Livestock and Meat International Trade data. The data shows beef exports were lower in June while imports were higher.

According to the ERS data, U.S. beef exports on a carcass weight basis were 183.3 million pounds in June 2020, which was 33% lower than in June 2019 and the lowest June total since 2009. This follows a similarly low May 2020, which was 31% below May 2019. On the import side, U.S. beef imports were up 15% in June 2020 over the previous June and the highest June total since 2015.

Beef exports started 2020 strong. First-quarter exports were 10% above the same period of 2019. The second quarter is when beef exports experienced declines – down 23% from the second quarter of 2019. For the year to date in available ERS data, U.S. beef exports are down 7.6% compared to the same period in 2019, and beef imports are 3% above 2019.

Japan, South Korea, Canada and Mexico are the top four export destinations and together accounted for 75% of beef exports in the first half of 2020. Exports were lower to each of these countries during June 2020 with the exception of Canada, which was essentially unchanged as compared to June 2019. Exports to Mexico were down 61% in June compared to June 2019. Worth noting, beef exports to China were up 90% from June 2019 but accounted for only 2.8% of total June 2020 exports.

Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand are the top four import sources and together accounted for 83% of beef imports in the first half of 2020. During June 2020, imports from Mexico were up 58% over June 2019, imports from Canada were up 4.2%, and imports from Australia and New Zealand were down 9% and 5%, respectively.

These data are likely not surprising given the U.S. beef supply disruptions in April through June. Lower production and reduced product availability certainly impacted international trade. However, the demand side is equally important and has impacted imports and exports. Weaker macroeconomic settings in many countries combined with higher U.S. beef prices also played a part in the trade adjustments. Additionally, exchange rate changes play a key role. Beef production and prices were much more normal in July (relative to April-June), and it will be interesting to watch how quickly trade adjusts to these changes moving forward.  end mark

This originally appeared in the Aug. 10, 2020, Livestock Marketing Information Center In the Cattle Markets newsletter.

Josh Maples
  • Josh Maples

  • Assistant Professor and Extension Economist
  • Mississippi State University

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