LAST year was a challenging one for Australian beef exports, but despite the impacts of COVID-19 held up extremely well and look set for growth in 2021.
In its Global Beef Industry and Trade report released in February this year, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) said the long-term outlook for global beef consumption was largely positive.
The report said while Australia produced only four per cent of global beef, it accounted for about 17pc of world trade, and has consistently been one of the top three global exporters for several decades.
It said while 2020 was a particularly challenging year, characterised by the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 and tight levels of Australian livestock supply, many opportunities for targeted growth remained for Australian beef exports.
In its Cattle Industry Projections 2021 report in February, MLA said in 2020 Australian beef exports reached 1.04 million tonnes shipped weight (swt) which was a decline of 15pc on 2019 levels when dry conditions drove elevated stock turn-off for the entire year.
When it came to the value of Australian beef exports, MLA said they declined 11pc on 2019 levels and sat at US$6.64 billion for the year, while the Australian beef export price grew by 4.5pc on 2019, demonstrating the enduring demand for beef, despite the challenges presented in 2020.
In terms of WA in 2020, according to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's (DPIRD) Western Australian Beef Commentary released in March, WA beef exports were valued at $252.6 million, the second highest value on record behind the record value of $278.4m set in 2019.
DPIRD said the volume of WA beef exports in 2020 was also the second largest ever despite declining 12pc on 2019, which was WA's biggest year.
In the past decade there had been a 38pc increase in the volume of boxed beef exported from WA.
In 2020 WA's beef exports totalled 50.4m kg (carcase equivalent quantity (ceq) compared to 57.1m kg ceq in 2019.
According to DPIRD the largest market for WA beef in volume terms is China and in 2020 it imported 12.8m kg ceq of WA beef, accounting for 25pc of WA's total beef exports.
The second largest market for boxed WA beef in volume was Indonesia which imported 8.6m kg ceq (17pc of WA beef exports), while third was the US with 15pc of exports.
In terms of value of beef exports, China also ranked as WA's number one market in 2020 recording a value of $66.6m or 26pc of the total, with the US second at $39.7m (16pc) and Indonesia third with $30.1m.
Looking more broadly at Australia's markets, the top destination for Australian beef in 2020 according to the MLA industry projections report, was Japan taking 269,000t swt, which was down 6pc on 2019 levels.
According to MLA, Australia remains the largest supplier to the Japanese market in volume, however, the US has closed the gap in recent years.
Manufacturing cuts accounted for 43pc of Australian beef traded with Japan in 2020, which was on the back of strong demand from hamburger chains and casual dining restaurants.
MLA said Japan remained the largest export destination for Australian grainfed beef (45pc) and chilled beef (38pc) in 2020.
After being surpassed by China in 2019 as Australia's second biggest export destination, MLA reported the US narrowly regained the title in 2020, taking 211,000t swt, down 16pc on 2019.
MLA said while the beef export volume to the US was back, the value only fell 3pc (to November), indicating a solid market under the circumstances.
The relatively small fall in value was due to the average Australian beef export price to the US rising 11pc in 2020.
Over the past decade, China has emerged from a minor importer, to the world's largest market for imported beef and in 2020 it was the third largest market for Australian beef taking 197,000t swt.
MLA said the rising demand had been driven by a growing affluent consumer class discovering a taste for quality beef, and the huge meat deficit resulting from ASF.
MLA said despite trade suspensions, Australia's chilled beef exports grew 9pc, with grainfed chilled increasing 61pc.
The South Korean market remained strong for Australia in 2020 trailing just 1pc behind 2019 levels taking 161,000t swt, while trade to the Middle East eased 8pc in 2020 to 28,000t swt, mainly on the back of COVID-19.
MLA is forecasting Australian beef exports to lift 2pc on 2020 levels to reach 1.06 million tonnes swt, with some resurgent demand across international markets likely.
When it came to the live cattle export market, MLA reported the Australian industry faced many challenges in 2020, with high cattle prices, a rising Australian dollar during the second half of the year and weakened consumer purchasing power in Indonesia.
Consequently, MLA reported total live cattle exports fell 19pc year-on-year to reach 1.06m cattle.
It reported there was a 26pc fall in feeder exports, a 17pc fall in breeder exports and a slight rise in exports of slaughter cattle, driven primarily by Malaysia.
In terms of WA's place in the live export market, DPIRD reported in 2020 the number of cattle exported live from WA for both breeding and non-breeding purposes decreased to 256,000 head, which accounted for 24pc of the national total.
According to DPIRD, Vietnam was WA's largest market in 2020 taking 32.4pc of the total or 83,000 head, which was up 92pc on 2019 volumes.
The second largest was Indonesia which took 82,000 head down from 145,000 head in 2019 and Israel was third taking 37,000 head down from 72,000 in 2019.
When it comes to the value of WA's live cattle exports, according to DPIRD they have increased from $251.4m in 2010 to $334.2m in 2020, representing an increase of 33pc.
In 2020 Vietnam not only ranked as WA's largest market when it came to numbers imported, but it was also WA's biggest market in terms of value at $114.3m, which represented 34pc of the total.
Indonesia was second biggest with a value of $90.3 million (27pc) which was down from $139.2 million in 2019.
Israel was WA's third largest market in terms of value at $53.3m, while Malaysia showed strong growth increasing from $7.2m in 2019 to $28.7m in 2020.
According to MLA demand for live cattle from Australia's key market, South East Asia, is expected to see some recovery during 2021.