UK Beef trade update: Exports and imports show uplift in October but still down against 2022

Key points

  • UK beef exports strengthened in October due to increased demand from Europe, but remained subdued compared to 2022 levels
  • Imports of Irish beef have risen by 4% (Sept-Oct), likely supported by price competitiveness, tight UK supplies and seasonal demand
  • GB R4L steer price continues to trade at an elevated level above those in Europe

Growth in demand from Europe

UK fresh and frozen beef exports rose into October, with volumes up 17% month-on-month, totalling 9,692t according to HMRC data. This rise comes after relatively steady exports seen through the first three quarters of 2023. However, export volumes throughout the year have remained below those seen in 2022. Year-on-year (YOY) volumes for October sat 422t (-4%) below 2022 figures. When looking at the year to date (Jan-Oct), the UK exported 74,396t of beef to the EU compared to 88,198t for the same period in 2022 – a decline of 16%. Exports have likely been limited by lower production and strong GB cattle prices in 2023, limiting competitiveness of UK beef.

The monthly rise into October was largely driven by increased demand from countries including Ireland (+17%), France (+29%) and the Netherlands (+25%). Exports to non-EU destinations also rose, such as Hong Kong (+39% since September). Trends suggest this is a seasonal movement, supported by exporter buying in the run up to the Christmas period.

Additionally, exports of beef offal increased YOY by 6%, totalling 2,293t in October. However, for the year-to-date (Jan-Oct), offal shipments remained lower than last year (-9%), primarily driven by lower exports to the EU.

Beef imports remain subdued

UK imports of beef for October 2023 totalled 19,638t, down 7% YOY but up 7% since September. Data showed that GB prime cattle production and slaughter rates in September and October were down YOY, with some tightness in the domestic supply chain. This has likely further driven growth in imports to cater for seasonal demand in the tail end of the year. However, volumes remained below previous years rates, likely constrained by reduced UK consumption levels.

IK imports beef trade yearly movements

Source: HMRC, via Trade Data Monitor LLC

Shipments from Ireland rose by 6% from September into October to 14,269t, taking the year-to-date total to 83,629t. Historical trends suggests this is a seasonal uplift to meet Christmas demand. However, volumes remained below those seen in October 2022. This came despite the price differential between Irish and GB cattle reaching its widest point during the month (Irish R3 steers averaged at a discount of 91p in the 4 weeks to 29 October). Since October, the price differential has narrowed further to 65p in the week beginning 18 December. GB cattle prices remain firm on the global market

EU, IE and UK price diff graph

Source: European Commission, AHDB