Cattle and beef trade: a look back and a look ahead

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Beef exports in 2019 were down 4.4 percent compared to 2018. Exports were down year over year to most major destinations including Japan (-10.0 percent); Hong Kong (-24.7 percent); Mexico (-5.4 percent) and Canada (-10.6 percent).  Among major markets, only South Korea was up 7.1 percent year over year. 


Japan accounted for the largest share of 2019 beef exports at 26.4 percent of the total. South Korea is the second largest market with 22.6 percent of total exports.  Number three market Mexico represented 14.0 percent of beef exports.  Canada is fourth at 8.9 percent followed closely by Hong Kong with a 7.7 percent share of the total.  The top five markets along with Taiwan at 5.8 percent represent 86.1 percent of total exports.  Beef exports to China increased in the second half of 2019 bringing the total for the year to a 1.1 percent share of total exports.


Total beef imports increased 2.0 percent year over year in 2019.  Beef imports were 7.0 percent higher from Canada and represented 27.7 percent of total imports. Number two beef import source Australia increased 6.5 percent year over year and was 23.4 percent of the import total.   Mexico is the third largest source of beef imports, up 14.1 percent year over year in 2019, and accounting for 19.0 percent of the total.  New Zealand is the fourth largest source of beef imports at 13.1 percent of imports but was down 29.9 percent year over year.


Total cattle imports increased 7.6 percent year over year in 2019.  This includes a 2.7 percent increase in feeder cattle from Mexico and Canada and a 25.5 percent increase year over year in cattle for slaughter from Canada.  Total cattle imports from Canada were 722,809 head, up 14.6 percent.  Total imports from Mexico were 1,319,944 head, up 4.1 percent year over year.  


Beef exports are expected to increase in 2020 with better prospects in China due to growing beef demand in general and enhanced protein needs from African Swine Fever (ASF).  However, reduced exports to Hong Kong may offset growing beef exports to mainland China as trade flows into China become officially recognized.  Additionally, the bilateral trade deal with Japan mostly restores U.S. beef competitive position in the country lost with U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and is expected to slow or halt the 2019 erosion in beef exports to the largest market for U.S. beef. 


Australia is expected to see reduced beef production and exports, which will reduce exports to the U.S. and other global markets and may allow the U.S. to surpass Australia as the third largest beef exporting country. Less beef from Australia will contribute to a projected decrease in U.S. beef imports in 2020. The U.S. may see reduced beef imports as several major beef exporting countries, such as New Zealand, redirect increasing amounts of beef to China, which continues to dominate global beef trade.  Improved beef trade prospects are part of the general optimism for stronger cattle and beef markets in 2020.


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