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Worldwide meat consumption and trade have been steadily rising for decades, driven on the demand side by rising incomes and expanding populations and on the supply side by ample feed supplies, improved production technologies, changing industry structure, and advances in transportation, packaging, and other technologies. Expanding U.S. meat trade is a reflection of these trends. This discussion examines the growth in trade and compares trends across commodities. Details related to specific traded livestock and meat products can be found in the Cattle, Hogs, Poultry, and Sheep topic areas.

Livestock and Meat Trade Data contains monthly and annual data for imports and exports of live cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats, five meat categories (beef and veal, pork, lamb and mutton, chicken meat, turkey meat), and eggs. The tables contain physical quantities, not dollar values or unit prices. The beef/veal, pork, and lamb/mutton data are reported on a carcass-weight-equivalent basis. Breakdowns by country are included. For the current U.S. meat and animal trade outlook, see the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report.

The Growing Importance of International Meat Trade

The success of the U.S. meat industry in world markets can be illustrated in two ways: by measuring how much world meat markets have expanded over the last 40 years, and by how much the U.S. presence in these markets has increased. World trade in poultry meat increased from near zero in the early 1960s to nearly 10 million metric tons by the early 2010s. The trade in poultry meat accelerated sharply toward the end of the 1980s and has surpassed trade in pork since 1993 and in beef since 2007. World trade in red meat (beef and pork) has increased, on average, 4 percent per year since 1993, versus 6 percent yearly for poultry trade.

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Reduced costs from feed conversion and organizational innovations like vertical integration have allowed the marketing of inexpensive poultry products to many countries, some of which cannot afford higher priced beef and pork products. The U.S. broiler industry increased its share in international markets from an average of 17 percent in the 1970s to nearly 50 percent in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, the U.S. industry has lost some market share to Brazil. The export market share has increased for the U.S. pork sector, especially since the early 1990s, and has exceeded 25 percent of the world export market since 2006. U.S. beef'exporter's share of world trade slipped drastically following the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in December 2003 in a dairy cow imported from Canada. The market share has since rebounded but is still well below pre-BSE levels.

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The Role of Trade in U.S. Meat Markets

U.S. meat exports began to accelerate in the mid-1980s, and U.S. meat producers have become major players in rapidly expanding world meat markets. The most dynamic U.S. meat sector has been the poultry industry as both exports and domestic consumption have increased dramatically. Poultry exports, in volume terms, have averaged 10 percent growth annually since the early 1990s. The growth in U.S. beef exports was interrupted in 2004 by trade disruptions related to BSE (see Cattle: Trade for more information), but have recovered at an annual average rate of nearly 17 percent since 2004. By 2011, U.S. beef exports were above the pre-BSE level of 2003. U.S. pork exports have also posted strong gains, increasing at an average annual rate of nearly 17 percent since the early 1990s. Pork exports surpassed beef exports in 2004.

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Another indicator of the growing importance of export markets for all three U.S. meat sectors is the export share of domestic production. Since the mid-1990s, an average of 15 percent of poultry production has been exported, and the share has been  increasing in recent years. Growth in pork exports over the past 10 years has pushed pork's export share of production to nearly 19 percent annually in the last 5 years. Beef exports were 11 percent of production in 2011, surpassing the benchmark level of 9 percent reached in 2003, prior to the BSE discovery.

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In terms of export value, the top U.S. meat export for many years was beef because it is, by far, the highest priced meat. The value of beef exports hit a record $3.2 billion in 2003 before dropping in response to the discovery of BSE. The value of beef exports has generally exceeded the value of pork and broiler meat exports as technical and organizational changes, feeding patterns, animal genetics, and industry structure have exerted downward pressure on the prices of these meats relative to beef. Pork is higher priced than broiler meat. As the quantity of pork exports has grown, total pork export value has grown more than other meats over the past decade, and surpassed the value of broiler exports in 2008.

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The United States is one of the world's largest importers of beef.  Beef production in the United States is geared toward grain-fed, high-value cuts, while beef imports are primarily grass-fed, lower-value beef cuts intended for processing, primarily as ground beef.  Pork imports are also comprised of particular cuts, such as ribs, that U.S. producers cannot completely supply. The United States is among the top ten importers of pork. Poultry imports account for less than 1 percent of domestic production.

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For More Information, See...

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) provides data on current U.S. trade; data on supply and demand (including imports and exports) for major trading partners; current world market and trade reports (and attaché reports); and information on international agricultural trade and agricultural policies of foreign countries.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a group of 34 member countries that shares a commitment to democratic government and a market economy. OECD work on agriculture includes agricultural policies, trade liberalization, and agriculture and the environment.

World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. The website includes information about the organization and its membership and provides access to official WTO documents.

Last updated: Wednesday, November 07, 2012

For more information contact: Rachel Johnson

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