US beef exports reached almost 1.5m tonnes in 2022, a 2% increase on 2021, the previous highest year for US beef export volumes.

The growth was concentrated in the earlier part of 2022, with December volumes actually 7% lower than they were for December 2021 at 112,707t, reflecting what the US Meat Exporters Federation (USMEF) described as headwinds in Asian markets late in the year.

These included widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in China, which had been a rapidly expanding beef export for the US in 2021 and 2022.

Additionally, the US dollar had been particularly strong against all major global currencies late in 2022 and this had the effect of making US export products more expensive for buyers in non-US dollar markets.

Reason for record performance

USMEF president and CEO Dan Halstrom described 2022 as a “ground-breaking year for US beef’s international presence, with global demand stronger than I’ve seen in all my years in the industry”.

Given that the US is the world’s largest beef consumer, a strong volume of supply is the first requirement for successful exports, with the second being the strong global demand as described by the USMEF president.

Markets for US beef in 2022

Despite a 4% decline on 2021 export volumes, Japan remained the largest volume market for US beef in 2022, taking 308,735t.

It was followed by South Korea, where export volumes grew by 4% in 2022 reaching 291,748t, but the fastest-growing market for US beef exports was China/Hong Kong, taking 278,294t, a 16% increase on the previous year.

This is particularly impressive given that exports for December fell 31% to 14,863t due to the massive disruption caused by change in COVID-19 policy in China.

The difference in value and volume position of export markets reflects the different product mix

It was also a record year for US beef export values, despite prices falling towards the end of the year. Total value for 2022 was $11.68bn (€10.7bn), 10% higher than the previous record set in 2021 and a massive 40% higher than the previous five-year average.

The highest-value market for US beef exports in 2022 was South Korea at $2.7bn (€2.5bn), followed by China/Hong Kong at $2.55bn (€2.36bn).

Despite being the highest volume export market, Japan is the third-highest value market for US beef exports at $2.32bn (€2.15bn).

The difference in value and volume position of export markets reflects the different product mix.

Japan therefore imports larger quantities of lower-value beef cuts, while South Korea imports less volume, but higher-quality more expensive beef cuts.


US beef supply for exporters in 2022 was boosted by a significant cull of cows in drought-affected regions for much of the year.

Such a boost, of course, is temporary and the consequence will be less supply in subsequent years, as ranchers look to rebuild herds, as has been happening in Australia over recent years.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is forecasting a reduction in US beef supply of 5% in 2023 and this alone will put pressure on US exporters to maintain the record volumes of 2022.

While it is almost a footnote in US meat export analysis, one of the best-performing export markets in growth percentage was the EU and UK. Of course, the growth of 39% in 2022 was from a relatively low base of 14,172t rising to 19,657t, but it is one to watch.

Less beef being produced in the US should increase its demand for imports, but Ireland is unlikely to be competitive once Brazil fills the tariff-free quota that Ireland uses for beef exports to the US.

However, if US supplies hamper exports to Asian markets, it may create an opportunity for Irish exports.

We do not yet have approval for South Korea, but we are in Japan and back into China.

Both these markets have growth potential for Irish beef exports and if there is any restriction on availability of US product, it will add to the opportunity for Irish beef exports to these markets.