Australia’s January beef exports off to a flying start, at 75,585t

Australian beef exports for January have had their strongest start for the year since the 2019-20 drought period, when slaughter activity went into overload.

January is traditionally the quietest month of the year for Australian beef exports, with many large northern export plants closed for their holiday break. However shipments to all markets last month reached 75,585 tonnes, the highest January figure seen since 2020, when much of the northern half of Australia was still in serious drought. The January average for the past five years has been 59,000t.

Last month’s result follows on from strong December trade, and comes despite some disruptions caused by the prolonged DP World waterside dispute at major beef shipping ports like Brisbane and Melbourne, and rain disruptions.

Barring public holiday impact, beef processing has had a strong start for the year, with the first four weeks of operations this year reported by the National Livestock Reporting Service averaging almost 88,500 head, 11 percent higher than last year, and 32pc higher than in 2022.

As it did during the back half of 2023, the United States continued to buy strongly in January, taking 20,308t of Australian beef and veal. That was more than double the volume seen in January last year (8953t).

Australia will soon gain a competitive advantage over export rival, Brazil, in the US market.

Without a bilateral Free Trade Agreement in place, Brazil exports into the US under the small ‘Other Country’ beef quota, of just 65,000 tonnes. As of 29 January, the ‘Other Country’ 2024 beef quota was already 71.54pc filled. It suggests the quota will be filled within the next month, forcing a full 26.4pc tariff on Brazilian beef exports to the US for the remainder of this year.

Last year, the US’s Other Country quota was filled by 28 March, and the year before that, by May 2. Despite the cost penalty, exports from Brazil to the US have grown sharply in recent years.

At the same time, Australia’s tariff-free export volume to the US has gradually declined over the past four years (see graph). Australia utilised just 29pc of its total US beef quota in 2022 (no data could be found yet for 2023), and 31pc in 2021. The last time the quota was filled was back in 2015.