Total U.S. beef exports for 2020 were lower year-over-year, falling 5% in both volume and value, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). However, beef exports did finish the year strong, with fourth quarter volume up 4.5% from 2019 and posting one of the best months on record in December.
December beef exports totaled 119,892 metric tons (mt), up 8% from December 2019 and the largest in nearly 10 years. Export value was $744 million, up 9% from a year ago and the second-highest total on record. December exports of beef muscle cuts were the second- largest ever, climbing 11% year-over-year in both volume and value. For 2020, beef muscle cut exports were down 2% from a year ago and fell 5% in value.
Beef export value equated to $349.10 per head of fed slaughter in December, up 9% year-over-year and the highest since April. The full-year average was $302.31 per head, down 2% from 2019.
Demand for U.S. beef proved resilient in most Asian markets in 2020. U.S. beef regained market share in Japan, climbing from 41% in 2019 to 44% in 2020, benefiting from the duty reductions in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement. U.S. beef also made substantial gains in Korea, capturing nearly 53% of total imports, up from 51.5% in 2019, and 64% of chilled imports, up from 62%. The U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement took effect in March and, according to USMEF, the U.S. capitalized in a big way, with beef exports quadrupling year-over-year. Since September, the U.S. has surpassed Australia as the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China.