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The importance of beef exports

By John F. Grimes, Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator

The subject of trade seems to be a daily topic in the national and agricultural media in recent weeks. The President appears to be determined to create an environment for “fairer” trade between the U.S. and many of our trading partners. Thus far, negotiations between the U.S. and other countries have yielded few results, tough talk, and the threat of tariffs.

Much of the uncertainty surrounding the issue of trade has created a level of anxiety within several U.S. industries. Agriculture is certainly one of those industries. Many agricultural commodities play an important role in our overall trade balance. The beef industry is greatly impacted by exports across the globe.

Annual U.S. beef exports have risen significantly over the past decade according to statistical data from the U.S. Meat Export Federation. In 2008, the U.S. exported 984,712 metric tons of beef at a total value $3.619 billion dollars. In 2017, U.S. beef exports were at 1,263,456 metric tons for a total value of $7.269 billion dollars. The top six destinations for U.S. beef exports in 2017 were 1. Japan, $1,890 billion; 2. South Korea, $1,220 billion; 3. Mexico, $980 million; 4. Hong Kong, $884 million; 5. Canada, $796 million; and 6. Taiwan, 410 million.

Exports of beef have continued their strong run thus far in 2018. Beef export volume was 111,213 metric tons in April, up 11% year-over-year. Export value was $676.7 million, up 23% and the fourth-highest on record. Through the first four months of 2018, exports were up 10% in volume to 429,286 metric tons. Export value was $2.59 billion, 20% above last year’s record pace.

Exports accounted for 14.1% of total beef production in April, up from 13.6% a year ago. Beef export value averaged $328.46 per head of fed slaughter in April, up 16% from a year ago. Through April, per-head export value averaged $318.91, up 17%. To put these figures in perspective, $318.91 on a 1,400-pound market steer equals an added 22.8 cents per pound.

The figures listed above should indicate the importance of exports to the beef industry. It certainly would be beneficial to the beef industry and many other agricultural commodities for our U.S. trade negotiators to make some agreements with our key trading partners sooner rather than later. To say a lot is at stake would be an understatement!

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