International Meat Trade Not Too Complicated

US - The food system in the United States is complex and most consumers, even many livestock producers, don’t fully understand the international meat trade system.
calendar icon 13 September 2006
clock icon 4 minute read

But, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Economist Lee Meyer said the system doesn’t have to be so complicated with the understanding of a few simple facts about beef, pork and chicken imports and exports.

“Chicken is the simplest,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture says this year we will probably export about 15 percent of the chicken produced in the United States. The amount sent overseas really hasn’t changed that much in recent years, ranging from about 14 to 18 percent.”

Russia is the largest buyer of U.S. poultry, although arbitrary changes in Russian import policies make the trade levels bounce from year to year. China and Mexico are also large buyers. Although Brazil is the third largest poultry producer, behind the United States and China, it is the largest exporter.

“Outbreaks of Avian Influenza really have changed trade patterns in poultry lately,” Meyer said. “An outbreak in southeast Asia in 2003 increased demand for broiler meat from the United States and Brazil, but hurt exports from Thailand.”

The export percentage for pork is about the same as for chicken – about 15 percent. However, Meyer said the complicating factor for pork is that we also import an amount equal to five percent of U.S. production. Exports have had a very positive economic impact on the hog production system in the United States and thus, exports have been a boon market for the pork industry. The United States also imports pork and live hogs from Canada.

“With an open trade border, live hogs produced in Western Canada can be processed in the Western and North Central United States, while pork for Eastern Canada can be supplied by processors in the Great Lakes region of the United States,” Meyer explained.

Meyer added that beef trade is interesting because the United States buys and sells large quantities of beef and cattle products.

“Traditionally we have imported about 12 percent of our production and exported about eight percent,” he said. “In other words, we buy substantially more than we sell. This makes sense because we don’t buy and sell the same thing. We export high quality beef cuts and cuts not commonly eaten in this country and we import lean beef for hamburgers.”

As a result, the value of what we sell to countries like Japan, Mexico and Canada usually is much greater than what we buy from Australia, Canada and South American countries, Meyer continued.
Beef trade dramatically changed from 2002 to 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalitis was found in Canada and then in the United States.

“Because of that, we now buy more of our beef from other countries, up to 15 percent, and export only three percent of our production,” Meyer said. “Most of the exports go to Mexico and Canada. Negotiations in Japan recently have been successful in settling an import dispute and we are now resuming selling beef exports to Japan and expect to with South Korea in the next few months.”

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