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China lifts ban on Australian beef: Is there cause for concern in the U.S.?

Experts watch market as China lifts ban on Australian beef.

Andrew Muhammad, Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy

June 24, 2024

2 Min Read
Beef Cattle
Bans were imposed on Australian imports during a period of rising tensions when Australia’s former Prime Minister called for an investigation into the first outbreak of COVID-19 in central China.Getty Images/iStockphoto

In 2019, China became the largest beef importing country in the world ($8.2 billion). By 2022, China imported a record $18.0 billion in beef and beef products.

To provide some background, China’s imports were negligible over a decade ago, less than $150 million in 2010 and 2011.

The remarkable growth in China’s beef imports since that time has benefited major exporting countries, most notably Brazil. However, U.S. exporters have also benefited, particularly since China lifted its ban on U.S. beef due to BSE concerns in 2016.

China is now the third leading market for U.S. beef exports (See previous SAT article in 2023).

China’s beef imports

Figure 1 shows China’s beef imports since 2010 in terms of quantity and value and by exporting country.

China_lifts_ban_on_Australian_beef-4.jpg

Since 2010, China’s beef imports have increased from 33 million metric tons to 2.8 billion metric tons by 2023, which is an increase of 8,000%.

As the figure shows, Brazil accounts for the largest share of total imports (1.2 billion metric tons). Since 2019, U.S. beef exports to China increased from 10 million metric tons ($85 million) to 192 million metric tons ($1.8 billion) by 2022.

In late May, China lifted bans on Australian beef companies raising questions about the competitiveness of U.S. beef in China moving forward.

Related:Is heat stress coming for your herd?

Australian bans

Recall that these bans were imposed during a period of rising tensions when Australia’s former Prime Minister called for an investigation into the first outbreak of COVID-19 in central China.

Tensions between Australia and China began to ease in 2022 with the election of the new Prime Minister.

The ease in tensions and the lifting of ban on Australian companies have resulted in increased imports from Australia in recent years.

But what does the data show for U.S. beef? In 2023, U.S. beef exports to China decline from 192 to 166 million metric tons, while imports from Australia increased from 185 to 228 million metric tons.

That said, Uruguay (decrease of 84 million metric tons) and New Zealand (decrease of 10 million metric tons) also experienced declines in the Chinese beef market in 2023, even as beef imports from Argentina, Brazil, and the Rest of World increased.

Year-to-date (January-April) imports in 2024 suggests a different story. As of April 2024, China’s beef imports are down 18% when compared to imports during the same period in 2023.

Beef imports from Australia were down 26% as of April 2024.

However, imports of U.S. beef were up 7% as of April of this year. Only time will tell if these trends continue throughout the year.

Related:North American cattle trade: One of the most intertwined in the globe

Source: Southern Ag Today, a collaboration of economists from 13 Southern universities.

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About the Author(s)

Andrew Muhammad

Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

Andrew Muhammad assists the state and nation’s agricultural decision makers in evaluating policies and programs dealing with agricultural commodities, food and nutrition, natural resources, and international trade.

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