U.S. beef exports have varied in the quantity of exports and the mix of countries receiving U.S. beef over many years.  The latest trade data for May shows total beef exports up 6.8 percent compared to one year ago with January through May total beef exports up 17.1 percent for the year to date.  May beef exports were down to Canada, Mexico and South Korea while exports were strongly higher year over year to Japan and Hong Kong.  Year to date beef exports are up year over year to all major U.S. beef export destinations.  This follows annual growth of 12.6 percent in total beef exports in 2016 which included increased year over year exports to Japan, South Korea and Mexico along with Taiwan and Vietnam.  2016 exports to Canada and Hong Kong were down year over year.

Continued growth in beef exports to Japan has helped the country to once again be the largest U.S. beef export market since 2013.  Prior to the first U.S. case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003, Japan routinely represented one third to nearly one half of total U.S. beef exports.  2016 beef exports to Japan were 29 percent smaller than the 2003 total.  However, total U.S. beef exports recovered and surpassed the 2003 export total in 2011 due to the increasing role of other markets post-BSE along with regrowth in Japan.

South Korea is currently the second largest U.S. be export market, a position that it had achieved prior to BSE in 2003.  Like Japan, South Korea was largely out of the U.S. market post-BSE and recovered second place status only in 2016.  South Korea has shown robust growth the past couple of years and was the only major beef export market to increase in 2015, during the record high U.S. prices.

Mexico was the only major market to remain largely open after BSE and as a result has had the largest average beef export share over the past decade.  However, beef exports to Mexico have generally decreased after peaking in 2008.  Mexico’s share of beef exports is under 15 percent so far in 2017 but total exports are still up 6.8 percent year over year following a nearly 9 percent annual increase in 2016.  Beef trade with Mexico has become much more integrated and product specific in recent years with growth in beef imports from Mexico. 

Canada is currently the fourth largest beef export market with 2017 year to date share of nearly 12 percent.  Canada’s share of total U.S. beef exports has generally declined in recent years though, like Mexico, Canada has had a larger share in the post-BSE world.  Beef exports to Canada in 2016 exceeded the level prior to BSE in 2003.

The biggest change in U.S. beef export markets in recent years has been the emergence of Hong Kong as a major market.  Hong Kong has a current year to date market share nearly equal to Canada.  However total exports to Hong Kong declined the past two years after peaking in 2014. Expected growth in beef exports to China may be partially offset by decreased exports to Hong Kong as the territory is a known point of transshipment of beef into China. 

U.S. beef exports have become somewhat more diverse over time with additional markets and more balance across those markets. At times in recent years, Taiwan and Vietnam have had larger shares of beef exports.  The impact of this growing list of markets not only impacts the total quantity of exports but the types and values of products exported.  In general, Asian markets for U.S. beef have increased in relative share and importance while the North American markets have declined slightly.  China adds potential for the role of Asian markets to increase even more in coming years.