Canada imported $1B of U.S. beef in 2012

Canada is the best customer the U.S. cattle producer has, with more than $1 billion in imports by its northern neighbour.  |  Michael Raine photo

American exports increase | U.S. moves $5 billion of beef to a changing international customer base

TAMPA, Fla. — Beef from the United States is sold in 100 countries, but Canada is by far its best customer.

The most recent numbers from the U.S. Meat Export Federation show Canada accepted more than $1 billion worth of beef between Jan.1 and Nov. 30, 2012. In total, 162,205 tonnes entered the country, which was 13 percent more than 2011.

Shipments of American beef to Mexico were still high but declined 16 percent. Mexico bought 175,540 tonnes worth $761 million.

The country was once the U.S.’s biggest trading partner and used a lot of round cuts.

When the U.S. wanted more ground beef, less was available to Mexico.

According to the January-November statistics, the U.S. exported $5 billion worth of beef in 2012, which was two percent more than the same period in 2011.

All this success has occurred at a time when the U.S. beef supply was shrinking to record low levels. Other countries such as Brazil and Argentina may take up the slack.

“Global demand for exports is continuing to grow regardless of where production is going,” Greg Hanes of the federation said during an export committee meeting at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention held in Tampa Feb. 5-9.

Outside of North America, the U.S.’s greatest export expectations are eastward with a new agreement from Japan that allows beef from cattle younger than 30 months.

Japan paid $969 million for 143,900 tonnes last year, a 24 percent im-provement over 2011. The most recent agreement could allow another 120 million pounds in the country worth $600 million.

Russia, South Korea and China are also favoured for growth, but there are frustrations.

Russia was a growing market with promises of increased quota until it decided to take a hard line on ractopamine residues. Shipments have slowed severely since early December, although many trade analysts at the convention said the ban was retaliation against U.S. policies that affected Russia.

Taiwan had a similar ban that ended last year. Beef is now returning but at a lower rate.

Taiwan bought 31,600 tonnes of beef from the U.S. between January and November 2011, which dropped to 16,426 tonnes worth $106 million for the same period in 2012.

China is importing more beef from other countries, but the U.S. continues to negotiate. China promised five years ago to offer access to beef from cattle younger than 30 months.

Phil Seng, head of the meat export federation, attributed part of the delay to U.S. reluctance to accept cooked poultry from China on the grounds of food safety concerns. In return, the Chinese have issued 22 requirements that include traceability.

“By not being in the market, we are missing one of the largest opportunities this industry has before it,” Seng said.

“The U.S. is still trying to figure out how to work with China.… I don’t know what it is going to take to get it done. It is going to take a lot of resolve, but I do know with the Chinese you have to figure out how you will negotiate.”

The Middle East is another opportunity. The region is accepting mostly liver and variety meats, but more muscle cuts are also going there as it builds a western style menu for the tourist trade.

The ongoing unrest in the Middle East has not stopped trade.

“Protesters still need to eat, so there is a river of liver still going to Egypt,” said Steve Isaf, chair of the meat export federation.

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