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Beef Trade Bounces Back; Difficult Delivery and Rebreeding Difficulties

By Derrell S. Peel

U.S. beef trade is stabilizing as the ripple effects of the initial COVID-19 disruptions continue to fade. The latest beef trade data for November shows that monthly exports were up 13.2 percent year over year. This brings the year to date total to a cumulative reduction of 3.7% year over year for the first eleven months of the year. Exports were very volatile in 2020, starting higher year over year before dropping sharply in May and June and recovering in the second half of the year.

Japan remains the largest beef export market in 2020 with exports up a modest 3.4% for the year-to-date through November and accounting for 28.5% of total beef exports for the period. South Korea is the number two market down 1.2% year over year through November. South Korea represents 23.2% of total beef exports for the year to date. With a 48.7% monthly increase in November, Mexico reclaimed the number three spot as a beef export destination but is still down 31.2% year over year for the year to date. Canada is the number four market for U.S. beef exports through November, up 6.4% for the January to November period and accounting for 9.7% of total exports through November. Hong Kong is the number five export market, down 5.1% through November and accounting for 7.4% of total beef exports for the year to date. The top five export markets represent 78.9% of total beef exports for the January to November period. Taiwan and China were the number six and seven markets adding another 6.9 and 3.5% to total beef exports, respectively, through November.

Total beef imports were down 3.9% year over year in November as the post-COVID surge in imports retreats to prior levels. For the January to November period, beef imports are up 10.7% year over year. Beef imports increased sharply in July and August before declining and dropping back close to year earlier levels in October and November.

Canada is the largest source of beef imports through November 2020, down 2.7% year-over-year and accounting for 24.5% of total imports. Australia has dropped to number two with U.S. imports of Australian beef down 5.2% year-over-year for the year to date. Australia represented 19.9% of total beef imports through November. Mexico is a close number three with shipments to the U.S. up 15.9% year over year and accounting for 19.7% of beef imports for the year-to-date. Beef imports from New Zealand jumped 25.7% through November, making it the number four source of imports and representing 15.5% of total beef imports. Beef imports from Brazil were up 33.8% through November and accounted for 6.4% of total beef imports. The top five beef import sources accounted for 86% of total beef imports through November. Nicaragua and Uruguay added another 5.7 and 4.4%, respectively, to total beef imports through November.

Much uncertainty continues but assuming no major new global health or economic disruptions, U.S. beef trade is expected to be supportive in 2021. Beef exports are forecast to be modestly higher year over year returning roughly to 2019 levels. Beef imports are currently forecast to decrease from the 2020 spike to pre-COVID levels or perhaps a bit lower. Numerous factors will affect U.S. and global beef trade in 2021 including exchange rates; continuing demand for beef in China; the rebuilding of the Australian beef industry; continuing trade tensions between China and Australia/New Zealand and Mexico’s economic situation.

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