There was a massive jump of 418,000t in Brazilian beef exports in 2022 to a new record total of 2.264m tonnes shipped weight (SW).

To put this level of growth in context, Ireland exported 512,000t of beef in total in 2022 and the increased volume from Brazil represents 80% of Ireland's total.

The most recent data builds on a platform of rapid expansion in Brazilian beef exports, going back to the 1990s.

Incredibly, in 1998, Brazil was exporting just 10% of the beef volume that it is today at 213,540t. This grew to exceed 1m tonnes in 2004 and 2m tonnes was passed for the first time in 2020 (see Figure 1).

The value of Brazil’s beef exports has also increased dramatically over this period as well.

The value in 2022 of almost $13bn is $3.8bn higher than the previous highest year in 2021 and a massive 20 times higher than the $632m value in 1998.

China created the opportunity

Such a level of expansion could never have happened without being driven by market demand.

The main driver in the global beef trade over the past decade has been China, where the scale of growth in demand is comparable with Brazil’s growth in beef export volumes and values.

Up until 2012, China imported just a few thousand tonnes of beef. Since then, demand from China has exploded, growing year on year to reach a massive 2.5m tonnes SW in first 11 months of 2022.

No country in the world, apart from Brazil, had the capacity to expand production to meet this demand.

Brazil’s ability to do this comes from the fact that it continues to have a huge area of productive land occupied by the Amazon rainforest.

It has been reducing as it has been cleared and brought into productive agriculture and the rate of clearance has grown dramatically in recent years.

According to monitoring agency TerraBrasillas the area of rainforest cleared has doubled from 6,100km2 in 2015 to 12,400km2 in 2022.


Brazil is the number one global superpower when it comes to beef exports and China is the same for beef imports.

The fact that Brazil had the capacity to grow production to meet this demand has inevitable environmental consequences with rainforest clearance.

Of course, clearing land of forestry for agriculture hasn’t been unique to Brazil - much of Europe in temperate climate areas was also historically covered in forest, subsequently removed to enable farming.

The reality is that Brazil has further capacity to grow and with projections that global demand for beef will also continue to grow, it will be have to be produced somewhere. Curbing production in Ireland is trivial in the context of the global picture.

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