Beef exports continue to be fueled mostly by the strong growth in the China/Hong Kong (HK) market, up 160.5% year over year in August. Monthly exports for August were also higher year over year to Japan, up 10.4% and Mexico, up 49.1% over last year’s sharp drop. August beef exports were down to South Korea, 9%; Canada, down 6.4%; and Taiwan, down 12.7%.

Peel derrell
Livestock Marketing Specialist / Oklahoma State University Extension

The previous record for annual beef exports was in 2018. However, 2021 beef exports are up 9.1% over 2018 for the January to August period and are forecast to finish this year 8%-9% above the 2018 level. Changes in the composition of beef exports since 2018 show how U.S. beef export markets are developing. Japan remains the largest export market for U.S. beef but is declining in total and as a share of total beef exports. For the first eight months of 2021, beef exports to Japan are down 7.5% from 2018, and the share of total beef exports to Japan have dropped from 28.9% in 2018 to 24.5% this year. South Korea continues to be the second-largest beef export market, with exports growing by 23.9% since 2018. South Korea’s share of total beef exports in the January to August period has increased from 20.6% in 2018 to 23.4% in 2021. South Korea is closing on and may surpass Japan in the next few months as the largest U.S. beef export market. In four of the eight months so far this year (January, February, April and May), monthly beef exports to South Korea have exceeded exports to Japan. 

However, China/HK is the most rapidly growing beef export market and could surpass both Japan and South Korea in not too many months. Beef exports to China/HK are up 163.4% year over year and have more than doubled, increasing by 114.1% since 2018 in the January – August period. In fact, monthly beef exports to China/HK in August were larger than South Korea and were second only to exports to Japan for the month. China/HK increased from 9.6% of total exports in 2018 to 18.8% of the total for the year to date through August and has increased from the fifth-largest beef export market in 2018 to the third-largest market in 2021. Beef exports to Taiwan are down 1.6% year over year but have increased by 7.2% since 2018 in the year-to-date values. However, Taiwan as a percentage of total exports has not changed much and currently represents 5.7% of total beef exports.

While the Asian markets have grown, beef exports to Canada and Mexico have declined in total and as a share of the total. Beef exports to Canada decreased by 10% from 2018 to 2021 for the first eight months of the year. Canada decreased from a share of 9.7% to 8% of total beef exports between 2018 and 2021. Beef exports to Mexico for the first eight months of the year decreased by 28.7% between 2018 and 2021. Mexico’s share of total beef exports decreased from 14.1% to 9.2% from 2018 to 2021 for the year-to-date period. Beef exports to Mexico dropped sharply in 2020 due to the pandemic and is recovering somewhat in 2021 with year-to-date beef exports up 20.8% year over year.  end mark

This originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2021, OSU Cow/Calf Corner newsletter.

  • Derrell S. Peel

  • Livestock Marketing Specialist
  • Oklahoma State University Extension