Limited supply could hurt beef exports in 2010

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — U.S. beef exports continue to be hurt by weak economies in foreign countries, according to the most recent Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook from U.S.D.A.’s Economic Research Service. The U.S. is expected to export about 1.7 billion lbs. of beef in 2009, a 9% decline from last year.

U.S. beef exports in the second quarter totaled 471 million lbs., a slight decline from last year’s second-quarter total of 472 million lbs. The lack of growth was due primarily to declining sales to North American partners. Even though the month of June exceeded last year’s monthly total, exports to Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. beef, decreased 14% in the second quarter year-over-year. According to F.A.S. Export Sales Reports, however, exports will not continue as strong in July.

In the second quarter, exports to Canada decreased by 7%. Weekly figures for exports in July also show relatively weak sales for Canada. Japan was the best-performing major import market, with nearly an 8% increase in the second quarter, year-over-year. U.S. beef still benefits from a relatively weak U.S. dollar compared with the Japanese yen, as well as from competing with relatively more expensive Japanese domestic product.

Beef exports to South Korea continue to wane from the levels first seen after U.S. beef was allowed back into the market in July 2008. Weak restaurant demand, a weak South Korean won and high stocks of frozen U.S. beef make additional U.S. beef imports more difficult. Second-quarter exports to Korea totaled 20 million lbs., less than half the amount exported in the first quarter of this year.

In 2010, the availability of beef supplies could be a limiting factor for export growth. As fat cattle production is expected to significantly decline next year due to smaller calf crops over the past few years and fewer feeder cattle, the supply of grain-fed beef for export will be lower. If domestic demand remains constant or improves next year, tighter supplies would result in higher prices. If prices increase, U.S. beef could further lose its competitiveness with Australian beef, particularly in Japan and South Korea.

Exports to South Korea are not expected to be as high as anticipated when the market reopened to U.S. beef last year because economic difficulties appear to be lingering and many small restaurants are not yet carrying U.S. beef products.

U.S. beef exports are expected to total more than 1.8 billion lbs. in 2010, which would still be a 7% increase from this year, as international demand for U.S. beef continues to move toward levels that existed before bovine spongiform encephalopathy.-related trade bans on U.S. beef.

Regarding beef imports, the U.S. imported 751 million lbs. of beef in the second quarter of 2009, which is almost a 14% year-over-year increase compared with 2008. Beef imports from Australia increased 54% from last year in the second quarter.

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