Meat & Livestock News

UK Beef Trade: A Balancing Act Between Consistent Imports and Diminishing Exports

A lot of raw meat hanging and arrange in a row in a meat factory.

Import Trends: A Steady Yet Declining Curve

In the realm of beef imports, the United Kingdom has exhibited a pattern of consistency with a subtle decline. The figures for September 2023 reveal that the UK imported 18,350 tonnes of beef, showing a minor increase from the preceding month.

However, a broader perspective paints a different picture. The cumulative imports from January to September 2023 have seen a decrease of 7,000 tonnes, a 4% drop compared to the same timeframe in 2022. This downturn was particularly noticeable in the initial months of the year.

The Irish Beef Scenario

Ireland, standing as the principal supplier for the UK, exported 13,600 tonnes of beef to the UK in September. This number is slightly more than what was recorded in August but shows a 3% fall from September of the previous year.

The past three months have witnessed a relative steadiness in the import volumes from Ireland. The price disparity between beef in Great Britain and Ireland has been fluctuating, with a notable difference of approximately 89p per kilogram as of early November. This ongoing price difference could potentially bolster the import of Irish beef into the UK, particularly with the festive season approaching.

Irish cattle slaughter rates have shown an uptick since September, with figures exceeding 40,000 head in early November, marginally surpassing the counts from last year. This increase aligns with the robust demand for cattle in the lead-up to Christmas. Projections based on current youngstock data suggest a potential tightening in future supplies.

Export Dynamics: Consistency Marred by Yearly Decline

The export sector of the UK beef market has maintained a level of steadiness in its monthly figures but is facing a year-on-year downturn. September’s exports stood at 8,250 tonnes, a slight rise from August but a significant 12% (1,150 tonnes) reduction from September 2022.

The elevated price of GB cattle, considerably higher than that in the EU, has been a limiting factor for the UK’s competitiveness in the European market. The demand for beef in the EU is also on a downward trajectory, anticipated to continue as per the European Commission, which forecasts a 1% decrease in beef consumption by 2024.

The UK’s share in the EU beef import market has witnessed a decline. Comparing the January to September period of 2022 and 2023, the EU’s import of fresh/frozen beef from the UK has decreased from 72,500 tonnes (36% market share) to 51,300 tonnes (28% market share).

Furthermore, exports to Japan have also reduced, dropping by 1,650 tonnes to 900 tonnes, indicative of a broader decrease in beef demand.

The current state of the UK beef market is characterised by a juxtaposition of steady domestic import levels against a backdrop of declining exports.

While the import figures, especially from Ireland, have shown resilience, the export market is grappling with challenges due to high domestic prices and waning demand in key markets like the EU and Japan. This presents a nuanced scenario for the UK beef industry, balancing internal stability with external market pressures.