Data from China customs, supplied by Bord Bia, shows that demand for beef imports continued to increase in the first quarter of 2024, despite the latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast predicting a slight reduction in demand for this year.

Up to the end of March, China imported 771,270t of beef product weight, compared with 633,806t for the fist quarter last year and 510,341t in the first quarter of 2022.

Irish beef has made it on to the list of countries that China imported beef from, but the volume supplied in the first quarter is miniscule at just 73t.

Top supplier

Brazil continues as top supplier, with almost 331,000t of beef, which is 50,000t more than in the same period last year. Volumes from Brazil are likely to increase further with the approval of additional Brazilian factories to supply China during this period.

Argentina takes second place in the supply table with 157,645t, up from just under 123,000t in the same period last year.

Beef imports from Australia in the first quarter showed the biggest percentage increase, increasing by almost 20,000t to 62,720t, while imports from Uruguay were up to 85,360t in the first quarter this year, compared with 68,602t in the same period last year.

Reduced volumes

The US and New Zealand were the only major suppliers with lower volumes into China in the first quarter of this year compared with last year.

In the case of the US, this reflects an overall significant reduction in export volumes because of reduced cattle supply combined with an abundance of lower cost beef being available from Australia and Brazil in particular.

US volumes in the first quarter fell to 31,828t compared with 35,670t in the first quarter last year, while imports from New Zealand were down to 52,708t in the first quarter of this year compared with 55,353t in the same period last year.

Lower prices

While the volume of beef imported by China was up just under 18% in the first quarter, the amount it paid for it fell by almost 13% to the equivalent of €4,396/t.

Increased supplies from Argentina, Australia and Brazil, where cattle prices are dramatically lower than the US or Europe, explain this lower value.


China imported 2,339t more sheepmeat in the first quarter of 2024 compared with last year.

Most of the 108,456t of imported sheepmeat was supplied by Australia and New Zealand.

Despite New Zealand losing market share to Australia, it remained the top supplier of imported sheepmeat in the first quarter at 56,625t, with Australia supplying 48,509t. The only other supplier of note was Uruguay with 2,627t.


Where there was a significant increase in China’s beef imports in the first quarter and a modest increase in sheepmeat imports, pigmeat import volumes collapsed.

The volume imported for the first three months of this year fell to 253,132t, which is just over half the volume imported during the same period last year.

Ireland has been a significant pigmeat supplier to China for several years and is the 10th-largest supplier in the first quarter of 2024 with 5,902t, which is significantly lower than the 8,308t supplied in the same period last year.

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