Canadians may be eating less beef, but offshore customers are hungry for more.
Canadian per capita consumption is about 17.6 kilograms retail weight but exports to Japan were record high in 2018, thanks in part to a favourable trade agreement where tariffs are being reduced, said Ron Glaser of Canada Beef.
While the national herd is not growing, increased imports of United States feeder cattle keep feedlots full and packing plants running at capacity.
“The cattle herd has been flat and our ability to grow domestic production and exports comes from the importation of feeder cattle,” he said.
Beef imports in 2019 are projected to be around 153,000 tonnes, the lowest amount since 2006. The beef comes primarily from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay, Glaser told the Alberta Beef Producers annual meeting in Calgary.
Asia is a key beef market with increased consumption and higher prices.
Japanese meat consumption for example, is at 89.7 kg per person. This is nearly 18 percent more than they consumed 20 years ago. They are also spending more on meat and domestic production cannot keep up, so imports are forecast to grow.
China receives considerable attention from all beef-exporting countries.
Even after being shut out of China for four months, Canada is projected to see its largest volume of beef go to China since 2015.
Canada has access for ractopamine-free, frozen, boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months of age. A 12 percent tariff is imposed.
In 2018, Canada exported 10,300 tonnes valued at $97 million to China.
The popularity of online shopping in China offers opportunities for retailers to market high-end beef through the internet. Most purchases are for steak eaten at home, said Glaser.
Pork remains the most popular meat in China but huge losses in the hog sector infected with African swine fever has created a critical shortage.
It is estimated there is a deficit of 32 million tonnes of pork so other proteins have to replace what was lost.
Rabobank’s recently released analysis of the global beef market forecasts increased growth in the next five years but trade volatility will be more common.
Rabobank said global beef exports increased by 38 percent from 8.65 million tonnes in 2013 to nearly 12 million tonnes in 2018.
South America has been the major player in this increased export supply with most coming from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Argentina has had considerable growth in export trade and China accounts for about 70 percent of its shipments.
There has been strong demand out of China where beef imports for the first nine months of this year were up 54 percent on 2018 volumes. In 2018, China imported more than one million tonnes of beef.
China imports from 23 countries and within those countries, it has given export approvals to more plants.