It isn’t just Irish beef exports that had a disappointing year in Asian markets, their US counterparts have also been experiencing a slump in sales.

In the latest data released by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), the volume of US beef exports in November was 99,029t, the second lowest in 2023 and despite US cattle prices being above the equivalent of €6/kg, the value also fell by 7% to $786.2m (€715m).

For the year to November, US beef export volumes were down 13% on the same period in 2022 to 1.18m tonnes, with the value down by 17%.

It should be noted that 2022 was a record year for US beef exports.

US beef exports to central America, Africa and Europe actually performed well in the first 11 months of 2023, it was Asian markets that underperformed compared with the previous year.

Top three markets

The top three markets for US beef exports all show a huge drop. The biggest decline was in sales to China, which recorded a 24% volume decline to 174,901t to the end of November, while volumes to Japan felly by 22% to 224,489t.

South Korea recorded a lower 17% fall and was the top US beef export destination to the end of November, taking 225,235t.

Any US beef export increases for the first 11 months of 2023 were to the lower-volume markets, with the exception of Mexico.

Sales to that market jumped by 14% to 189,242t between January and November 2023.

It was always going to be difficult for the US to match its beef export performance of 2022

In Asia, sales to Hong Kong increased by 12% to 36,397t, while sales to African countries increased by 60% to 19,364t. Sales to the EU and UK increased again in 2023 as they have been doing since a reallocation of tariff-free quota.

In the first 11 months, the volume was up 4% to 19,291t, with most of the increase coming from sales to the UK, which at 2,147t was almost three times higher than they were for the same period in 2022.

Reasons for decline

It was always going to be difficult for the US to match its beef export performance of 2022 when a new record was set for both volume and value.

Asia is the main volume destination for US beef exports and that market was weaker in 2023.

Also, the combination of extra Australian beef supplies at lower prices following the completion of herd rebuilding meant that they were particularly strong competitors in these markets.

US exporters were faced with competing with their cattle supplies costing the equivalent of over €6/kg, twice the cost of their Australian equivalent.

With the export value of US beef declining in Asian markets, it meant US beef processors sought alternatives in 2023.