In 2022, Brazil exported 2.2 million tonnes (Mt) (to end of November), twice as much beef as the next-largest exporter the USA.

Between them, this represents one third of the total beef traded globally and Brazil and the US also have a major share of the market in the biggest importer, China.

They are expected to have imported close to 2.5Mt of beef for the year just ended and the most recent data from Brazil to the end of November showed that 1.24Mt came from there, while the US has supplied close to 300,000t, with the final tally not known until February 2023.

Irish cattle prices increased significantly in the run-up to Christmas; the question now is will they be sustained and built on into 2023.

Despite Ireland being a tiny beef exporter into global markets, we are indirectly affected by what happens there.

As Ireland is the largest exporter in Europe and the EU and UK are forecast by USDA to be the sixth and seventh largest importers of beef in 2023, if there is any fall-off in demand from China, then Ireland’s main export markets become the target.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is forecasting that Chinese demand for beef imports will have peaked in 2022 at 3,140t carcase weight equivalent (CWE), falling back to 2,850t in 2023.

If US beef exports decline, as is possible because of a high cow cull in 2022 caused by prolonged drought, then it would offset the reduced demand from China.

USDA is taking the view that will be the case and it is forecasting that US beef export volumes will decline from 1.62Mt CWE in 2022 to 1.4Mt in 2023.

The value of Irish beef in 2023 will be shaped by what happens in global markets.

IBGE, Brazil’s statistics agency, reports that in the third quarter of 2022, 7.85 million cattle were processed, an increase of 11.9% compared with the third quarter of 2021 and an increase of 6.3% compared with the second quarter of 2022.

ABIEC, the Brazilian beef processors association, in its 2022 report forecast that production will increase by 2Mt between 2021 and 2026, which means more beef will be available for either domestic consumption or export.

For Irish beef producers dependent on the UK and EU markets, if wider international demand weakens, then Europe and the UK become a target for Brazilian and other South American exporters.

Trade deals

While the EU has concluded a trade deal with New Zealand in 2022 and negotiations are advanced with Australia, the biggest threat to Irish beef comes from UK trade deals with both Australia and New Zealand.

These will complete the approval process in the UK during 2023 and come into effect before the end of the year. They will mean increased competition for Irish beef and sheepmeat in the UK market place.

Progress in international markets

Irish export performance beyond the EU and UK for beef exports has been disappointing. This is unlikely to change in the coming year, as Brazil will use most of the US beef import quota and Ireland still waits for approval by South Korea and readmission to the Chinese market.

It is difficult to predict when these will happen - ideally, it should be early in the year, but that was also the expectation at the start of 2022 as well.

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