U.S. beef imports totaled over 1.8 billion pounds through June 2015, about 40 percent higher than the same period one year earlier. Imports of lean beef for processing from Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay have remained above yearprior levels through the first and second quarters of this year. Imports of thermally processed beef from Brazil and fresh/chilled beef from Mexico have also been higher year over year. Nonetheless, imports from Australia have posted the largest gains year over year as a result of lingering drought conditions and brisk herd liquidation. Despite increased herd liquidation in Australia, cattle prices have remained high due to the strong global demand for beef, especially from the United States. From January through June, total beef imports from Australia were up a little over 65 percent. It is expected that imports of processing beef will remain brisk through the third quarter as a result of low cow slaughter, the strong demand for processing beef, and competitively priced imported product. Fourth-quarter imports remain unchanged from the previous month’s estimate, and total U.S. beef imports for 2015 are forecast at 3.4 billion pounds, over 17 percent higher than year-earlier levels.
According to the most recent monthly export data, declines in beef exports to top destinations such as Japan, Mexico, and Hong Kong have more than offset increases in beef shipped to South Korea during the first half of the year. January–June total beef exports to South Korea were up approximately 8 percent relative to the previous year. However, growth in overall beef exports so far this year has largely been obstructed by a stronger U.S. dollar and sluggish global demand for relatively high-priced U.S. beef. Total beef exports through June were reported a little over 9 percent lower than the same period in 2014. Top U.S. beef export markets such as Mexico, Canada, and Hong Kong have all shown noticeable declines through the first half of the year. Beef exports to Japan were higher year over year through April but began to fizzle in May and June. USDA lowered both third- and fourth-quarter beef exports by 25 million pounds, as the above factors will likely continue to be a drag on exports through the remainder of the year. Total beef exports for 2015 are expected to reach 2.3 billion pounds, about 8 percent lower than 2014.
Live cattle imports through the first half of the year were approximately 5 percent lower than a year ago. Imports have been higher from Mexico (approximately 14 percent higher January-June, year over year), but the United States has experienced a significant decline in live cattle imports from Canada (about 22 percent lower year over year for January-June). USDA reduced forecasts for live cattle exports in both 2015 and 2016 as a result of weaker demand.