After two years of exceptional growth and records set for both volume and value, US beef exports started 2023 at a much lower level than last year.
The volume compared with January 2022 was down 15% to 100,942t, while the value was down by almost one third at $702.3m (€662.5m).
This is a continuation of the trend that began late last year and is explained by the US Meat Exporters Federation (USMEF) belief that higher stocks than usual carried over into the new year partially explains the drop.
Asian markets weaker
US beef exports to neighbouring countries remained steady in January, with the main falls coming from the big Asian markets.
South Korea led the way with volume down 36%, with a spectacular 52% fall in the value to $151.5m (€142.9m). This slump is following a record year in 2022 with the strength of the South Korean currency against the dollar also blamed for the decline.
Sales to China also fell by a substantial 24% to 14,980t following two years of spectacular growth.
The USMEF believes that the ending of COVID-19 restrictions in China, followed by a widespread outbreak of COVID, contributed to the drop in demand in January.
Japan is the other big Asian market for US beef exports and while sales were down in January compared with last year, it was a modest 2% drop to 22,546t. Sales to the EU and UK were down 17% to 1,361t in January.
Mexico was an outlier, in that it was the only major export market for US beef that recorded a growth in January - up a substantial 20% from January 2022 to 17,479t. The USMEF noted that the arrival of Brazilian beef into Mexico would increase competition for US exports in that market.
US pigmeat exports have been the opposite to beef exports over 2021 and 2022, in that they were in decline as beef increased.
However, they began an upturn in the final quarter of 2022 and this has continued into the January 2023 export data as well, with the volume up 13% on January 2022 to 236,767t, with a 16% increase in value to $643.4m (€607m).
Mexico was the key market taking 96,800t in January, 11% more than the previous month last year.
The most spectacular increase was the 30% jump to 46,315t in volumes to China, though January 2022 had been a recent low point for US pigmeat sales to China due to COVID-19 and the recovery in the Chinese pig herd following African swine fever.
The US is consistently the second-largest beef exporter in the world after Brazil and in 2022, the volume was close to 1.5m tonnes.
The United States Department of Agriculture had forecast that volumes would drop in 2023 as there are fewer cattle on feed and there was a high level of cows culled in 2022 due to drought.
Despite less volume, it is also notable that the export price has also slipped in January 2022 compared with the start of last year.
This is also the case with Brazilian beef exports, which are severely disrupted by their exclusion from China at the moment.
With factory profits in the major beef exporting companies also down, though from exceptional record highs, the global beef market is clearly weaker than it was a year ago.