Beef shipments increased 2% year-on-year in 2012, reaching 963,799 tonnes swt and beating the previous record of 957,482 tonnes swt, which was set in 2008.
Volume sales were boosted by a 33% increase in beef shipments to the US, with demand driven by the lean fine-textured beef (LFTB) scandal, which led to a sudden increase in demand for manufacturing beef in the US last year.
Emerging markets also helped increase volumes, with record shipments to China (32,905 tonnes swt, up 324%), Taiwan (38,281 tonnes swt, up 4%) and Singapore (14,087 tonnes swt, up 46%).
Shipments to South Korea were down 14% year-on-year, although this was an improvement from the 32% drop experienced in the first six months of the year. MLA put the drop down to increased domestic production in Korea and competition from US exporters.
Falling demand in Japan
Japan remained the biggest market for Australian beef, accounting for nearly a third of all exports, although shipments decreased 10% year-on-year to 308,537 tonnes swt, the lowest volumes seen since 2003.
MLA blamed “the weak Japanese economy, faltering consumer demand, the high Australian dollar and increased competition from the US” for the falling demand.
“Falls in tonnage were seen across all categories, with frozen grass-fed exports declining 14,243 tonnes swt (down 9%) from the previous year, to 140,930 tonnes swt.
"Besides the tough economy and increased supplies of US beef, demand for Australian frozen beef from existing market segments underpinned the trade during the year, despite Japanese importers being forced to compete at higher prices for frozen product against south-east Asian, Chinese and US buyers,” said MLA analysts.
“Chilled beef shipments to Japan eased 7% year-on-year, to 129,229 tonnes swt, the lowest yearly volume since 1990. Australian chilled grain-fed exports eased by 8% to 85,720 tonnes swt, impacted by competition from US beef and higher Japanese production.”
Grain-fed beef decline
Decline was also seen in Australian grain-fed beef, with volumes dropping to 173,847 tonnes swt in the first 11 months of 2012, down 10% year-on-year and 12% on the five-year average.
Grain-fed beef exports to the EU did increase by 45% year-on-year in the January to November period as a result of changes to import quotas, but MLA predicted that 2013 volumes of grain-fed beef would finish well below previous years as a result of the strong Australian dollar and reduced demand in the major grain-fed export destinations, Japan and South Korea.