Meat & Livestock News

Overview of UK Beef Trade in October: Exports and Imports

rib eye steak on wooden board
  • UK beef exports in October saw a month-on-month increase but a year-on-year decline, influenced by European demand and market conditions.
  • Beef imports into the UK decreased compared to the previous year, reflecting changes in domestic supply and consumption patterns.
  • The trade dynamics were affected by factors like global market conditions, production levels, and pricing differences between the UK and other countries.

In October, the UK witnessed a significant yet complex shift in its beef trade dynamics. The month saw an uplift in beef exports, primarily driven by increased European demand, although these figures were still lower compared to the same period in 2022.

According to the latest HMRC data, there was a 17% month-on-month increase in fresh and frozen beef exports, totalling 9,692 tonnes. Despite this rise, the year-on-year comparison for October shows a 4% decline, translating to 422 tonnes less than in 2022. From January to October, UK beef exports to the EU amounted to 74,396 tonnes, marking a 16% decrease from the 88,198 tonnes exported during the same period last year. This reduction is largely attributed to lower production and the high prices of GB cattle in 2023, which have impacted the competitiveness of UK beef in the market.

The surge in October exports was notably influenced by heightened demand from Ireland, France, and the Netherlands, with increases of 17%, 29%, and 25%, respectively.

Additionally, there was a marked rise in exports to non-EU destinations, including a 39% increase to Hong Kong since September, indicative of a seasonal trend associated with pre-Christmas exporter buying. Beef offal exports also saw a 6% year-on-year increase in October, totalling 2,293 tonnes. However, the overall year-to-date offal shipments were 9% lower than the previous year, primarily due to decreased exports to the EU.

Conversely, the UK’s beef imports in October 2023 totalled 19,638 tonnes, reflecting a 7% decrease year-on-year but a 7% increase from September.

This growth in imports is likely a response to the domestic supply chain’s tightness, as evidenced by the reduced GB prime cattle production and slaughter rates in September and October compared to the previous year. Despite this uptick, the overall import volumes remained lower than in previous years, potentially due to reduced consumption levels within the UK.

Ireland, a key supplier of beef to the UK, saw a 6% increase in shipments from September to October, reaching 14,269 tonnes. This rise aligns with the historical trend of increased demand in the lead-up to Christmas. However, these volumes were still below those of October 2022.

The price differential between Irish and GB cattle was at its widest during the month, with Irish R3 steers averaging a discount of 91p in the four weeks to 29 October. Since then, this differential has narrowed to 65p in the week beginning 18 December, with GB cattle prices maintaining their strength in the global market.