Beef exports versus imports; the numbers tell a positive tale

Exports of U.S. beef are helping make the cattle market. But what about imports?

Nevil Speer

June 18, 2018

2 Min Read
Beef exports versus imports; the numbers tell a positive tale

Last week’s illustration highlighted the importance of beef exports to the U.S. beef industry. Total export value exceeded $7.1 billion in 2017 – a new record for the industry. That additional revenue has a real influence on the market. The $7.1 billion value spread across every fed steer/heifer is equivalent to about $325 per head – and expressed across the 2017 average slaughter weight works out to $24 per cwt.

To that end, many producers often ask, “But what about imports? Don’t they offset the value of exports?” This week’s graph provides some further perspective into those questions – it illustrates the beef industry’s export versus import value on an annual basis.  

Last year’s exports exceed import value by $1.6 billion. In other words, beef’s “trade balance” was positive and the beef industry benefitted from its trade status. The difference in 2017 was the third-largest difference on record, falling behind only 2011 and 2013. Moreover, the 2017 difference is up sharply versus 2015 when the relationship was spun around the other way:  imports exceeded exports by about $800 million.   


However, that dollar-for-dollar comparison is not one that tells the whole story. Rather, a majority of beef imports come in the form of lean beef trimmings for the purpose of blending with 50-50 trim to make hamburger. And from that perspective, the imports actually create value for the beef industry. Otherwise, much of that 50-50 trim would possess little value. More on all that next week.   

Related:Industry At A Glance: What’s the impact of beef imports?

With all that in mind, how do you perceive the value of exports (and imports) to the U.S. beef industry? What concerns do you have about the current hullaballoo around trade? Are you making any specific adjustments within your operation because of trade uncertainty? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.  

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY. Contact him at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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