Australia’s May beef exports surge, in line with higher production

Jon Condon, 05/06/2023


AUSTRALIAN beef exports surged sharply during May, in line with higher levels of production across the eastern states and growing overseas demand.

Shipments to all export markets reached 91,479 tonnes last month, a sharp 19,400t or 27 percent increase on April, which was impacted sharply by public holidays and lower processing plant throughput.  April processing operations were hamstrung by four or five public holidays for Easter, Anzac Day, and Labour Day in some states, limiting working days.

May was easily the busiest month for the year to date for beef processors, with a sequence of weeks at, or above 115,000 head, according to the National Livestock Reporting Service. Several of those weeks were the largest seven-day volumes seen since 2021, as the industry nears the end of the herd rebuilding cycle after earlier drought.

Last month exports were a full 11,000t higher than May last year, as the export trade continues to recover, through greater livestock availability.

For the five months January-May representing the calendar year to date, Australia’s chilled and frozen beef exports have now reached 384,370t, compared with 319,000t for the same period last year – a 20pc increase.

Processing labour is now the key limiting pinch-point in terms of further advances in export volume, in the face of a growing supply of slaughter-ready cattle (see last Tuesday’s weekly kill report.)

Most major and emerging export markets took greater volume of Australian beef last month. Some of that, at least, is due to lower volumes now coming out of the United States, as the impact of North America’s drought on herd size takes effect.

For the second consecutive month, China returned as Australia’s single largest volume market, taking 19,569t for the month, about 80pc of which was in frozen form.  That was up almost 17pc on the slow April period, and up almost 6000t or more than 40pc on May last year, when China was being heavily supplied by the US and Brazil.

For the calendar year to date, China has now taken 79,356t, more than 20,000t or 33pc higher than last year. Part of the reason for the jump last month was the impact from Brazil’s earlier temporary suspension in trade into China after the detection of an atypical case of BSE in March. Australian beef has been used to partially fill the void, in the absence of much larger Brazilian shipments until well into April.

Japan finished just behind China in terms of export volume last month, taking 19,366t of Australian beef – almost half of which was in chilled form. That was a sharp 27pc increase on the previous month, but still 6000t or 25pc behind May last year. For the first five months of trade in 2023, volume to Japan has reached 83,662t, about 2pc behind last year.

There was solid growth in trade into the United States in May, after a prolonged period where exports to the destination have been subdued, due to very high rates of beef kill in the US because of drought-driven herd reduction.

After April exports to the US reached a little over 12,500t, last month climbed almost 44pc to 17,950t – easily the largest monthly tally seen in the past year. For the year to date, exports to the US are now at 68,455t, compared with 47,873t for the same period last year.

South Korea continues to fill an important, and very stable role for Australian export beef, taking 15,648t last month, just over 2000t or 15pc more than April. Calendar year to date, Korean volume has reached 72,634t, up 28pc on the same five months last year.

Among smaller and emerging markets, Indonesia took 5470t of Australian beef in May, up 49pc from 3675t last year, while five-month trade so far in 2023 has reached 25,468t – almost double the volume of trade seen during the same period last year.

The Middle East also recorded a solid rise to 2546t of Australian beef last month compared with April, but marginally down on May last year. For the year to date, exports to the seven Middle Eastern countries has totalled 10,264t, virtually identical to last year.

May represented the final month of Australian beef trade into the United Kingdom before the activation of the new Free Trade Agreement from June 1, which will see future exports arrive tariff-free.

Understandably, importers dealing in Australian beef appear to have worked their supplies to maximise the tariff relief, taking just 140 tonnes of Australian beef in May, and 398 tonnes for the year to date.

June trade is likely to show an increase from these insignificant figures, but nobody in the trade is expecting Australia’s export beef trade into the UK to explode overnight. Slow but steady growth is the likely direction, with the prospect of a little more high-end chilled product like Wagyu likely to make an appearance under the new tariff-free regime, later this year.




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  1. Rudi Santosa, 05/06/2023


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