Records smashed as 2013 beef exports hit 1.1 million tonnes

Jon Condon, 04/01/2014


Australia's total beef and veal exports – past 6 years:

  • 2013:  1,099,484t
  • 2012:  963,779t
  • 2011:  949,192t
  • 2010:  922,830t
  • 2009:  927,775t
  • 2008:  957,478t


IT'S official: Australia has set an all-time record for beef and veal exports in 2013.

And far from edging past the previous record annual total, the old figure has been absolutely smashed, as strong international demand coupled with extreme drought pressure throughout the year has forced record numbers of cattle to market across Eastern Australia.

Official shipment data released by the Department of Agriculture yesterday afternoon shows Australian beef exports last calendar year reached just short of 1.1 million tonnes.

While such records always provide a sense of achievement, it is more a sad reflection of the desperately bad season experienced across the nation’s beef heartland areas of Queensland, western NSW, parts of Victoria and the Northern Territory.

Last year’s official total of 1,099,484 tonnes (1.099mt) of chilled and frozen beef exports was more than 135,000 tonnes higher than the previous record, set the previous year (2012).

That’s a massive 14 percent increase over the old record, reflecting both the extreme high rate of cattle (and particularly female) slaughter in 2013, as well as strong international demand from established and emerging export customer countries. The increase in export volume last year over the year previous equates to an additional 675,000 slaughter cattle, based on an average 200kg yield of saleable beef per carcase.

It was no great surprise that 2013 ultimately produced an all-time export record, however, having gone past the previous year’s record volume by mid-November, with six weeks of the slaughter season remaining.

The surge in cattle slaughter which started back in January in the face of rapidly deteriorating seasonal conditions continued throughout the year. No less than five months recorded unprecedented monthly export shipments above 100,000 tonnes.

December monthly figures followed the pattern set earlier in the year, with a record 96,349t being shipped to export destinations. That was easily a record tonnage for the month, and well over 10,000t above the same period a year earlier, despite the late, second-half surge in export activity in 2012.

Further fuelling the unprecedented export volumes last year was the strength in international demand for Australian beef, and an increasingly favourable exchange rate as the year wore on. Australia’s trading position has been assisted by the decline in value of the A$, which sat yesterday at exactly US90c, down more than US15c, or 15pc from where it was around this time last year, and down 7pc in value since August.

So where did last year’s record-setting export shipments go? Virtually everywhere it seems.


China phenomenon rolls on

The awakening of the sleeping giant – China – was undoubtedly the beef export story of the year. As one prominent export processor put it, given the frenetic rate of kill experienced through 2013, Australian beef would have been in ‘more trouble than the early settlers’ if China had not come along as a customer when it did.

For the full calendar year, China exceeded all earlier expectations, taking 154,800 tonnes of Australian beef, more than 92pc of it in frozen form.

Compare this with total shipments of just 32,900t for the previous year, and it represented a spectacular 370 percent increase in trade.

Any fears that growth in trade into China might be transient are now long-gone, and the market shapes up as a key feature and influencer of Australian beef exports again in 2014.

For the month of December just passed, exports to China again exceeded 14,100t, only slightly down on November exports of 15,800t and almost double the volume sent in December a year earlier. Monthly exports to China peaked in October, setting an all-time record of 16,700t.

As expected, the trade out of Australia to China last month was again made up entirely of frozen product, following the country’s surprise temporary suspension imposed on chilled beef in late September, based on translation issues in language used in import permits – still to be resolved. Click here to view Beef Central’s earlier article on this topic.

The full calendar year export volume to China was eclipsed in size only by exports to Japan and the US, with South Korea (144,300t last year) now ranked fourth among export customers.

Illustrating just how much things have changed, at the start of last year, MLA’s 2013 Annual Industry Projections estimated Australia’s likely trade to China was likely to reach only around 35,000t for the year.


US market took less product

In other key export markets, the United States took 212,702 tonnes of Australian beef during 2013, down about 11,000t on the previous 2012 year, and a long way from the 300,000-plus tonne annual tallies seen up to 2007.

That result is due mostly to new and alternate customers like China and the Middle East out-bidding US imported beef buyers on price, and unfavourable currency trends, which improved as the year progressed.

Currency movements and cross-rates have moved a little more in the US’s favour for beef imports in the past few months, but the bans on US beef in markets like Russia and parts of the Middle because of beta agonist use, and China over lingering BSE concerns, continue to provide strong alternate market bidding support for Australian beef. 

December monthly exports to the US reached 17,700t, up a little from the previous month, but back about 22pc from this time a year ago.


Japan trade declines, Korea improves

Japan remained Australia’s largest beef export market for 2013, taking 288,800 tonnes for the year, down from 308,500t a year earlier. Mounting export competitive pressure from the US is a big factor in trade performance into Japan, as a result of last year’s age-related protocol adjustment for US beef in Japan. US shortribs and other in-demand single cuts continue to flood into the Japanese market in heavier volumes.

Partly, also, because of bans on US beef in alternate export markets like China and Russia over beta agonist use, the US has made big gains in exports to Japan last year, largely at Australia’s expense. For example in July, US beef exports to Japan were up 46pc from the same month a year earlier, representing the largest monthly US total seen since the emergence of BSE in the US in 2003. Year-to-November US beef exports to Japan were up 52pc from the same period in 2012.

Australia’s monthly shipments to Japan for December reached 22,882t, down 2pc from this time last year, but back about 9pc from November exports.

Korea, now Australia’s fourth largest export market after China, last year took 144,364t of Australian beef, 15pc better than the previous year, when shipments totalled 126,000t.

Monthly shipments for December reached 16,200t, about 1100t better than November, and about 17pc better than December last year.


Most other markets stronger

For reasons discussed earlier in this report, the Middle East region continues to perform strongly as a customer for Australian beef, taking a record 60,993 tonnes of Australian beef during 2013 – almost doubling the volume of trade a year earlier.

December trade was a strong 3652t, not far behind November (3956t), and about 34pc better than this period last year.

Australia’s total export trade to the European Union last year reached 19,809t, a big leap from 14,888t a year earlier, as the enlarged EU grainfed beef quota provided greater opportunity for Australian exports. December monthly shipments at 1525t were similar to the previous month, but well up on 1298t this time a year ago.

Grainfed export volumes have made up the majority of EU shipments throughout 2013, accounting for 57pc of shipments to the market. Accordingly, the value of Australian beef exports to the EU increased in 2013, totalling A$148 million for the January-September period, representing growth of 46pc.

Elsewhere, exports to Russia and the former CIS states reached 30,317t last year – a disappointing decline from closer to 35,000t a year earlier and a long way from the days of exports above 60,000t in 2010 and 2011.

Exports to Indonesia mounted something of a recovery during 2013, following two years of heavy restrictions on exports as part of the Indonesian Government’s ‘self-sufficiency’ push in commodities including beef. Exports last year totalled 39,400t – a 45pc rise in volume on the previous 2012 year – and almost exactly restoring volumes to where they sat in 2011, the year that sanctions started to be imposed.

For December, Indonesia took 4704t of Australian beef, well down from the 6100t shipped in November (the highest monthly volume since July 2011), but dramatically better than the 1173t shipped in December last year. Part of the explanation for this is the recently relaxed ‘quality beef’ segment access intended for restaurants, that can only be air-freighted into the market.

In context, though, that’s still a far cry from the 52,000t exported as recently as 2009, before current Indonesian self-sufficiency measures destroyed the market through restricted import permit access.

The Philippines continues to be a solid performer for Australian beef, taking 2700t last month, and almost 27,000t for the calendar year, an 8pc lift on the previous year. Taiwan at 35,700t declined about 10pc on the previous year’s trade, while Malaysia was stable at 15,900t.

Another fringe growth market last year was Canada, taking 17,900t of Australian beef via its east and west coast ports, a 15pc rise on the year before.

Slipping in size was the Central and South American market, where volumes (mostly picanha/rump caps and other in-demand cuts) more than halved from 19,000t in 2012 to 9400t last year.





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