Bumper year for beef exports
Last year proved to be a record year for Australian beef shipments, according to trade data released last week by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).
The strong finish to the 2012 calendar year pushed the total beef and veal exports to 963,799 tonnes shipping weight (swt) - an increase of 2 per cent on the previous year and just ahead of the prior record set in 2008 (957,482 tonnes swt).
While 2012 ended up as the largest volume year on record, the final result was largely in contrast to the very tough trading conditions for exporters throughout the year.
The high Australian dollar, weak consumer demand in Japan and Korea (especially for the first half of the year) and increased competition in many markets affected export returns, especially for chilled beef.
However, there were also several high points for the trade, including historically high global prices for manufacturing beef, a 33 per cent year-on-year increase in shipments to the US (224,007 tonnes swt), along with record shipments to China (32,905 tonnes swt, up 324 per cent), Taiwan (38,281 tonnes swt, up 4 per cent) and Singapore (14,087 tonnes swt, up 46 per cent).
On the supply side during 2012, a surge in slaughter and beef production during the final three months of the year facilitated an increase in beef exports, assisted by lower cattle prices - largely due to the rapid drying off in seasonal conditions.
Illustrating the fast finish to the export year, this year had the highest December on record, at 86,229 tonnes swt - 5 per cent higher year-on-year.
Despite contracting 10 per cent year-on-year to 308,537 tonnes swt, Japan easily remained Australia's largest beef export market, taking 32 per cent of all beef exported.
The weak Japanese economy, faltering consumer demand, the high $A and increased competition from the US all combined to affect Australia's trade throughout 2012.
While the US was the second-largest market for the year, at 224,007 tonnes swt, the 33 per cent year-on-year increase was off a 2011low.
Putting 2012 in context, Australian beef exports to the US between 2000 and 2010 averaged 312,000 tonnes swt, peaking at a record 397,678 tonnes swt in 2001 (when the $A traded about US50Â¢).
The rise in Australian exports to the US in 2012 was largely due to a reduced supply of manufacturing beef in the US, record high prices (in USÂ¢ a pound terms) and reduced buying from Russia (for manufacturing beef).
After a very slow start to the year, Australian beef exports to Korea finished the year at strong levels.
Exports for the year totalled 125,957 tonnes swt - down 14 per cent year-on-year, after being down as much as 32 per cent after the first six months of the year.
The combination of increased Korean beef and pork production, competition from the US and a slowing Korean economy impacted demand for Australian beef throughout the year.
A 4 per cent increase in exports to Taiwan throughout the year, to 38,281 tonnes swt, had it move back to being Australia's fourth largest export market in 2012.
However, its move up the rankings was largely due to significant declines in exports to Russia (34,954 tonnes swt, down 37 per cent) and Indonesia (27,096 tonnes swt, down 32 per cent).
The fall in exports to Russia was primarily due to a loss of price competitiveness of Australia beef, as currency movements resulted in Brazilian beef being much more attractive for Russian importers.
The 32 per cent decline in beef exports to Indonesia for the year was largely due to the limited availability of import permits.
Rising very quickly throughout 2012 to challenge Taiwan and Russia, and surpass Indonesia, in terms of volume, was China. Assisted by strong demand and reportedly tightening local supplies, Australian exports to China exceeded all expectations during the final five months of the year, bringing the 2012 total to 32,905 tonnes swt - up 324 per cent on the previous year.
An increase in access for Australian grain-fed beef contributed to a 16 per cent rise in exports to the EU for the past year, totalling 14,087 tonnes swt. Despite a 3 per cent year-on-year decline, exports to the Middle East largely consolidated on the growth of previous year, totalling 31,325 tonnes swt.
Overall, Australian beef exports for the year continued the trend of the past five years, with a record percentage and volume of beef going to markets other than the big three of Japan, the US and Korea.
In 2012, 31.7 per cent of total exports, or 305,277 tonnes swt of beef went to markets outside of the big three, compared with 30.8 per cent in 2011 and only 8.6 per cent (78,115 tonnes swt) in 2005.
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