With the UK no longer a member, the EU27 are currently exporting twice as much beef as they import including offal.

For the period January to September 2020, the EU imported 181,880t, a 13.2% decline on the same period in 2019, while at the same time exporting 368,160t a 4.3% increase. These figures are for the EU27 and exclude the UK.

Sources of EU beef imports

The fall in beef imports is explained by the combined effect of the global pandemic causing serious disruption in the catering and hospitality trade and the fact that demand and prices in China have been increasing for beef throughout 2020.

Brazil is still the top supplier of beef imported by the EU, sending 63,907t in the period January to September, which is a 16.4% reduction on the same period in 2019.

Argentina, in fact, increased exports to the EU by 6.8% to 55,604, but the other big South American supplier, Uruguay, supplied 17.9% less beef to the EU at 25,770t.

The next-largest supplier is Australia at 8,907t for the period January to September and this is a drop of 27% compared with last year.

The decline in EU imports from Australia reflects the fact that their herd is at its lowest point in 20 years and restocking following prolonged drought has meant a reduction in Australian beef exports overall.

EU beef exports

The biggest market for EU beef exports is Hong Kong, taking 39,839t in the first nine months of this year, an increase of 13.3% on the same period last year.

Ghana in west Africa is the second-largest market by volume, taking 38,083t, a 20.3% increase on last year, while Philippines comes next, taking 30,742t.

Two smaller but quickly growing markets are the USA and Japan, where the effects of the trade deal that came into effect in February 2019 are starting to be felt.

Sales to the USA were up 55% on the first nine months of 2019 to 8,859t, while Japan took 9,323t of EU beef, a 72% increase on the same period in 2019.

Irish share of EU beef exports

Ireland is a strong contributor to EU beef exports. Between January and September 2020, Ireland exported 11,383t (source: CSO) of beef to Hong Kong out of the EU’s total exports of 39,839t.

With Ghana, Ireland supplied 7,092t out of the 38,083t EU exports and 15,106t, half the EU total exports to the Philippines.

Ireland has an even bigger share of the EU sales to the USA, sending 5,851t in the period between January and September 2020, two-thirds of all EU beef exports to the US.

Ireland sent 3,614t to Japan, just over one third of EU exports in the first nine months of 2020.

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