Strong U.S. Beef Exports Face Headwinds

U.S. Beef Exports Show Strengths

Jennifer Carrico
By  Jennifer Carrico , Senior Livestock Editor
U.S. beef exports continue to be strong even though they are down from record highs in 2022. (U.S. Meat Export Federation)

U.S. beef exports in 2023 remained strong, even though they don't match the best-ever levels of 2022.

"Beef exports have been down from the record numbers a year ago, but the parts we are exporting is adding value to the beef carcasses," says John Hinners, senior vice president of industry relations for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). "The variety meats which aren't consumed much in the U.S. have value in other countries."

While 2023 beef exports were below the record totals for the previous year, December exports were the largest since August, and December export value increased 10% year over year. Nearly 14% of U.S. beef products are sent out of the country, including mostly tripe, tongue, heart and kidney. The top five importers are Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada.

Beef exports in 2023 totaled 1.29 million metric tons, down 12% from the 2022 record. Export value fell 15% to just under $10 billion, still the third highest annual value for beef exports.

"There is no question that 2023 was a challenging year for U.S. beef exports, especially in our largest Asian markets where economic conditions have weighed on food service demand," USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom says. "Of course, we were also challenged on the supply side, with less product available for export. Nevertheless, U.S. beef achieved excellent growth in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and we are encouraged by the December uptick in demand in South Korea and China. It was also great to see such strong per-head export value in December, topping $430."


Hinners says 2022 beef exports were supported by a strong dollar and significant demand by international consumers who desire a quality product. This has continued to fuel beef demand growth from top importing countries.

Mexico saw demand for U.S. beef continue to strengthen at the end of 2023, with retail and food service shipments increasing 14%, the highest since 2019. Value surged 23% to $1.19 billion, the second highest value on record.

Mexico is an outstanding market for beef muscle cuts, especially those derived from the round and chuck. It's also the leading volume destination for U.S. beef variety meat. In 2023, variety meat exports increased 16% year over year to 109,084 metric tons (mt), while value increased 19% to $318 million.

December beef exports to leading market South Korea remained lower than a year ago in volume at 23,327 mt, down 4%. However, export value climbed to the highest in 18 months to $220.6 million. For 2023, exports to Korea fell 16% below the 2022 record but still reached $2.13 billion. That marks the third consecutive year exports topped $2 billion. The U.S. imports to South Korea captured a record 68% of their total imports in 2023.

Year-end beef exports to China also showed renewed momentum, with export value increasing 19% from a year ago to $126 million, the highest since September. For all of 2023, exports to China declined 22% to 189,191 mt, valued at $1.6 billion (down 25%). The news was more encouraging in Hong Kong, where business travel and tourism continue to rebound from the impact of prolonged COVID-related restrictions. In 2023, beef exports to Hong Kong increased 14% year over year, valued at $415 million.

The 2023 average value per head of fed cattle was $397.04 per head, down 11% from the record level of $448.57 in 2022. Exports accounted for 14% of total beef production and 11.7% for muscle cuts. That's down from the record 15.2 and 13%, respectively, in 2022.


Hinners says 2024 will have challenges starting with the smallest U.S. cow herd in 50 years. Exports are expected to remain strong, but domestic demand will need to be met first since supplies will be lower.

The demand for global proteins continues to be strong, but the price pressure could direct some markets to other proteins. By the end of 2023, U.S. pork exports were up 10% from a year ago, the largest since May 2021. Export values increased 11% to $765.8 million, which was also the highest since May 2021.

"2023 saw tremendous growth in global demand for U.S. pork, and it came at a time when the U.S. industry needed it most," Halstrom says. "The expansion of U.S. pork's presence in Mexico has been remarkable, but the great news certainly doesn't end there. We are very encouraged by the robust demand we've seen throughout the Western Hemisphere and in a number of Asia-Pacific markets, as well."


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