U.S. beef imports for 2012 are forecast at 2.36 billion pounds. While imports for the year are expected to be 15 percent above year-earlier levels, they have not been as robust as expected, from Canada in particular. Through August, U.S. beef imports from Australia and New Zealand were 52 and 6 percent above those of a year ago, respectively; but imports from Canada were 9 percent below year-earlier levels. Since 2008, Canada has been the highest volume beef exporter to the United States. U.S. beef imports from Uruguay and Mexico have been stronger this year at 47 and 48 percent above those of a year ago, respectively. Third-quarter import levels are estimated at 590 million pounds and imports in the fourth quarter are forecast at 515 million pounds, or 8 and 13 percent higher than those of a year ago, respectively. Growth in U.S. beef imports is also expected to continue into 2013, forecast at 2.62 billion pounds, or 11 percent higher than in 2012.

Through August 2012, U.S. beef exports remained lower year-over-year to most major trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. U.S. exports to Japan were marginally (+3 percent) above those of a year ago. Vietnam and Hong Kong are among the few countries to which exports have increased through August, by 34 and 9 percent, respectively. U.S. beef exports to Egypt have held fairly steady and are fractionally above year-earlier levels. U.S. beef exports for the third quarter are estimated at 670 million pounds and forecast at 625 million pounds in the fourth quarter, as the United States is expected to maintain a net export margin. However, as exports are forecast at 2.45 billion pounds in 2013 and imports are expected to increase, the United States is expected to again become a net importer.