Brazil is set to overtake Australia in 2004 to become the world’s largest beef exporting country, according to the latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts. With higher beef production due to improved genetics and cattle production practices and an attractive currency, Brazilian exports are expected to increase 15% to reach 1.35 million tonnes cw in 2004. Remarkably, this result would come without Brazilian unprocessed beef being able to access North Asian or North American markets due to its foot and mouth disease status.

According to the USDA, Australian exports are forecast to increase by 3% to 1.3 million tonnes cw as Australian beef fills some of the shortfall left by US beef in Japan and South Korea. Beef exports are also expected to ramp up from India (including Buffalo beef), Argentina and Uruguay. Product from these countries competes with Australian beef in most export markets.

The USDA expects US exports to decline 83% in 2004 to 195,000 tonnes cw, due to the closure of most export markets to US beef. In making this projection, the USDA has assumed the import bans in place as at 30 March will remain for the forecast period.

On the import front, Japan, Mexico and Korea are expected to import fewer products in 2004 than a year earlier, according to the USDA. These three countries were heavily reliant on US beef imports prior to the import ban and, despite attempts being made by Australia and New Zealand to fill the shortfall, the USDA believes the void left by US beef will not be completely filled.

Imports to Japan are forecast to fall 36% from 2003 levels to 520,000 tonnes cw. Korean imports are expected to suffer a greater blow, falling 55% to 200,000 tonnes cw. In Mexico, imports may fall by up to 32%, despite the partial lifting of import restrictions on US beef to allow beef from cattle aged less than 30 months of age.