Beef imports among major world importing countries are expected to increase in 2016 year over year but will remain slightly lower than 2014 record levels. The U.S. is the largest beef producing and consuming country and often the largest importer of beef. In the 27 years since 1990, the U.S. has been the largest beef importing country 20 times. Australia and Canada are typically the top two sources of U.S beef imports, with Australia being the largest in recent years. New Zealand is typically the third largest source of U.S. beef imports though year to date imports in 2015 have New Zealand in second place, ahead of Canada. Mexico has been a rapidly growing beef exporter in recent years and has been the fourth largest source of U.S. beef imports since 2010. Beef imports from Uruguay and Brazil are both sharply lower in recent years compared to about a decade ago though imports from both are up year over year in 2015 with Brazil the number five source of beef imports so far this year. Nicaragua has been the number five source of U.S. beef imports ahead of Brazil and Uruguay several times in recent years.
Russia has exceeded the U.S. as the largest global beef importer seven times since 1990 and has been the number two beef importing country since 2004. Russian beef imports have been variable over time in terms of both quantity and sources due to changes in Russian policy. Russian beef imports are projected lower in 2015 and by 2016 may drop to levels similar to Japan. Japan has historically been the number two or three beef importer (alternating with Russia) but was briefly eclipsed by the European Union from 2004-2006 before returning as the third largest beef importing country since 2007. Japanese beef imports dropped after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in Japan (2001) and later in the U.S. and Canada (2003) and have slowly rebuilt but remain lower than pre-BSE levels.
The next tier of major beef importing countries is evolving rapidly. The European Union (EU) was the fourth largest beef importer from 2002 to 2011and was, in fact, larger than Japan as the third largest beef importer from 2004-2006. EU beef imports have decreased by roughly half over the past ten years. South Korean beef imports dropped by half in 2004 (post-BSE) and slowly recovered to become the number four beef importing country in 2011 and 2012. South Korea was replaced as the number four beef importing country by rapidly growing beef imports in Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014. Hong Kong beef imports in 2015 are projected down from record 2014 levels but still large, keeping Hong Kong as the number five beef importer. Some of the growth in Hong Kong beef imports since 2013 is presumed to include transshipments to other countries.
Most dramatic is the rapid growth in beef imports in China starting in 2013. China is projected to be the fourth largest beef importer in 2015 and may reach beef import totals close to Japan in 2016. China has been the fourth largest beef producer and consumer for many years but has not been a player in global beef trade until recently. Beginning in 2013, Chinese beef consumption began to significantly exceed production and is supported by growing beef imports. China is likely to be an increasingly important global beef market player in the coming years.
Beyond the major beef importers identified above is a variable list of smaller importing countries. These countries include Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Iran, Israel and Taiwan. This growing list of small importers collectively represent an increasing share of global beef imports. As little as a decade ago the top five beef importing countries accounted for roughly two-thirds of global beef imports but that share dropped to about 50 percent by 2014. Increasingly diverse global beef imports result from economic growth that supports increased beef consumption as well as more market differentiation of the wide range of beef products. The total value of beef trade is enhanced by the growing quantity and product targeting that occurs in diverse import markets.