Beef imports gain in first quarter while exports fall behind

May 18, 2012
by WLJ

First-quarter U.S. beef exports 12 percent lower.

Beef exports in the first quarter of this year have been sluggish compared with a year ago, perhaps due to a slightly strengthening U.S. dollar through first-quarter 2012.

U.S. beef exports were lower year-over-year to Japan (-4 percent), Mexico (- 11 percent), South Korea (-41 percent), and Hong Kong (-19 percent). Exports to Egypt and Vietnam were higher, year-over-year, by 31 and 37 percent, respectively.

Total U.S. beef exports are expected to decrease in the third and fourth quarters of 2012 compared with year-earlier levels as less beef is available for export. U.S. beef production is expected to be 5 and 8 percent lower in the third and fourth quarters of 2012, and exports are expected to be 9 percent and 6 percent lower in those quarters. Beef export levels in 2013 are expected to be only slightly (1 percent) below forecast 2012 levels, at 2.65 billion pounds.

First-quarter U.S. beef imports 27 percent higher

U.S. beef imports for 2012 are forecast over 18 percent higher, year-over-year, at 2.4 billion pounds. First-quarter imports were about 26 percent higher compared with a year earlier. Imports were 91 and 4 percent higher, yearover-year, from Australia and New Zealand, and 13 and 40 percent higher from Canada and Mexico, respectively. U.S. beef imports for the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2012 are forecast to be 12, 16 and 22 percent higher yearover-year. Increased imports are expected from Oceania as improved pasture conditions in Australia and New Zealand have boosted carcass weights and production in those countries. Strong U.S. demand for processing beef, amid tightening U.S. production, is expected to at least partly offset the higher Australian dollar and to support higher imports of beef to the U.S.

U.S. beef imports from North American trading partners Canada and Mexico are also expected ) to remain strong compared with year-earlier levels. Growth of 8 percent in the U.S. beef import market is forecast for 2013, totaling 2.6 billion pounds.

U.S. cattle imports through the first quarter are fractionally higher compared with the same period a year ago. Lower imports from Canada have been offset by higher imports from Mexico through the first quarter of 2012. Cattle imports from Mexico were 24 percent higher than in 2011 through March. The continued increase of cattle imported to the U.S. from Mexico stems from the severe drought conditions that were—and in some cases, still are—present in the southern tier of the U.S. throughout last year and which extended into northern Mexico.

It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, Mexican cattle exports to the U.S. may drop off as the year progresses. This may be largely dependent on weather patterns and if pasture conditions improve.

In the first quarter, cattle imports from Canada were 5 percent below a year ago. According to Agricultural Marketing Service weekly reports, imports of slaughter steers/heifers and cows through April are 11 and 18 percent below year-earlier levels compared to the same time period last year. The lower import levels are likely due to Canadian producers being in the midst of herd rebuilding and retaining females for breeding.

Imports of Canadian feeder cattle, however, are 69 percent higher than a year ago due to a sluggish spring Canadian feeder cattle market and stronger price incentives in the U.S.

Total U.S. cattle imports for 2012 are forecast at 2.075 million head and at 1.95 million head in 2013, or 6 percent lower yearover-year. — USDA