All indicators point to more beef being produced in and exported from South American countries, while the Farm to Fork strategy contributed to sustained decline in EU output.
In its most recent forecast, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) foreign agricultural service (FAS) is forecasting that Argentina’s beef exports will reach 900,000t carcase weight equivalent (CWE) in 2024, the highest level in the past 60 years.
That will still be behind Australia, the world’s third-largest beef exporter, but will be significantly ahead of Uruguay, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada, who occupy the other positions in the global top 10 of beef exporters.
Beef production in Argentina for 2024 is forecast to be 3.12m tonnes, slightly lower than this year. This is because following prolonged drought, improved rainfall is expected in the coming months, which in turn will encourage cattle retention.
Also, elections will take place in December and a change of Government is expected to one which will be more favourably disposed to the livestock sector and exports.
China continues to be the main export market for Argentina, taking 70% of total beef exports.
Per capita beef consumption in Argentina is the highest in the world at over 50kg per person forecast for 2023. This is almost three times the Irish per capita beef consumption, though it has fallen from almost 70kg per person in 2008.
The USDA forecast for Uruguay is a 4% increase in 2024 exports to 467,000t CWE. Like Ireland, Uruguay has a small domestic market for beef and 80% of production is exported.
Per capita beef consumption is marginally lower and has been in the range of 45kg to 47kg over the past three years.
As with its South American neighbours, China is the main export market for Uruguayan beef and the USDA forecasts that it will account for 60% of 2024 export volume. The USA is the second-most important market, followed by the EU.
Brazil will continue to be the South American - and indeed global - super power of beef trade in 2024.
The USDA estimates that 2023 beef production will be 11.16m tonnes CWE, an 8% increase on 2022 levels, and a further 2% increase is forecast for 2024.
Exports are forecast to increase to 3.4m tonnes in 2024. As with South American neighbours, China is the main export market, taking 70% of Brazil’s beef exports.
Meanwhile in the EU
In contrast with the major South American beef producers, the USDA is forecasting that EU beef production will be at record lows of 6.5m tonnes in 2023 and 6.44m tonnes in 2024.
As well as high input costs, the USDA has identified “new regulations imposed upon the livestock sector by the European Commission (EC), especially those related to the Green Deal (the Farm to Fork strategy, deforestation free supply chain regulation, and the industrial emissions proposal), the veterinary medicine legislation, and the new EU animal welfare legislative roadmap. These regulations are requiring financial investments and a change of farm management, pressing profit margins even further.”
The USDA has a strong insight into global trade through its office presence in all significant countries.
Its analysis is clear - output and exports are trending upwards in the major South American beef powers, while the EU is in prolonged decline.
This is a consequence of EU policy to focus on environment and climate to the exclusion of productive agriculture.
What is also clear is that the EU will ultimately fall into a deficit of supply relative to consumption and that slack will be picked up by the South American exporters for whom the EU market will be made more attractive by the Mercosur trade deal, which the European Commission president has identified as a priority for concluding before the end of this year.