China’s demand for imported beef continued to grow in 2023, with the volume of imports growing to 2.737m tonnes, another new record.
However, the fact that this is just 47,000t more than they imported in 2022 means that it is the lowest increase in over a decade of rapid growth.
The other stand-out feature of China’s beef imports in 2023 was the slump in value compared with the previous year.
The value of China’s beef imports in 2023 was €13.1m, a 30% decline on the €17m value of imports in 2022. When this is converted to average price paid per tonne, in 2023 it was €4,799/t compared with €6,331/t paid in 2022 and just ahead of the €4,539/t average paid for beef imports in 2021.
Irish beef to China
Irish beef returned to China in 2023, though it was briefly suspended at the end of the year following the discovery of a BSE case.
For the period that the market was opened, China sourced 2,182t of beef from Ireland at a value of €18.8m.
While this is a minuscule amount in the context of both China’s beef imports and indeed Ireland’s beef exports, it was still a beginning to establish Irish beef in the world’s largest market for imported beef.
While Ireland has limited approval for beef to China with beef offal and bone in cuts being excluded, it is nonetheless interesting to note that Irish beef had the second-highest value per tonne of all beef imported by China in 2023 at €8,653/t, bettered only by the USA which secured €8,699/t for the 156,042t of beef that China imported from them.
It was another record year for China’s beef imports from Brazil, with volume at just under 1.2m tonnes, up 75,000t from the previous year. Volumes from Argentina also increased - up just under 37,000t - while Australian supplies also increased, up almost 44,000t on 2022 levels.
While the top three suppliers all increased their share of China’s market for imported beef, they did so at a significantly lower price per tonne than they secured the previous year.
Brazil’s suppliers received on average €4,687 per tonne, €1,894/t less than the previous year, Argentinian beef was imported at an average of €3,812/t, some €1,487/t less than in 2022, while Australian beef at €6,710/t was €1,594/t less than in 2022.
The US supplied 22,000t less of China’s beef imports, with tighter cattle supply causing a reduction in overall US beef exports in 2023.
US beef was also imported at a lower value per tonne, though at €8,699/t, it was the most expensive beef China imported in 2023.ADVERTISEMENT
After a drop in volumes imported in 2022, demand for imported sheepmeat in China rebounded in 2023 to a new record volume of 433,666t, up from 357,946t in 2022. Despite the increase in volume, the value of China’s sheepmeat imports in 2023 fell from €1.9bn to €1.6bn.
Just over half of China’s beef imports in 2023 were supplied by New Zealand and with almost 46% coming from Australia, it meant that these two countries supplied 96% of China’s total imports. The remainder was divided between Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.
Bigger supplies and lower prices per tonne from Australia and New Zealand were drivers of Chinese demand for more sheepmeat in 2023.
The value of New Zealand supplies were down €1,818/t to €4,032/t and the value of Australian sheepmeat imports fell by €1,513/t to €3,529/t in 2023.
After more than a decade of rapid growth, it is unlikely that this will continue at anywhere close to the same pace.
The International Monetary Fund has reduced its growth forecast for China’s economy from 5.2% last year to 4.6% this year, with further decline expected in the medium term.
Reuters also reported this week that meat market sales ahead of the Chinese new year festival had slumped and there are similar reports from South American exporters to China about a collapse in demand.
China will continue being the world’s leading importer of beef, sheep and pigmeat in the years ahead, but the rapid growth phase appears over for now.
It is still a market worth having for Irish exporters, but doesn’t have the same growth potential that it had back in 2018 when Irish beef first entered the market.