Beef imports 10 percent above 2003

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WASHINGTON – U.S. beef imports for 2004 are forecast at 3.3 billion pounds, down from earlier levels, but still 10 percent above last year’s level.

A 12 percent to 13 percent decline in cow slaughter has increased the need for imported lean processing beef compared with last year, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Who’s shipping? While imports from Australia may be down, as that country attempts to deliver a substitute for banned U.S. beef in Asian markets, imports should increase from New Zealand and Uruguay.

Uruguay was unable to ship fresh/chilled or frozen product to the United States from mid-2001 until late last year because of foot-and-mouth disease.

Consequently, the cattle inventory in Uruguay had increased from 10.4 to 12.5 million head between January 2001 and January 2004.

Imports from both New Zealand and Uruguay are up significantly over year-earlier levels, and both should meet their tariff-rate quotas this year.

While Uruguay’s 20,000 ton (product weight) quota is only 10 percent the size of New Zealand’s, imports from Uruguay for the year-to-date are running one-third the size of imports from New Zealand.

Brazil, Argentina. Imports of heat-treated beef from Brazil and Argentina were 26 percent above year-earlier levels in the first quarter of 2004, the USDA reports.

Only beef that has been heated is allowed from these countries because neither is considered sufficiently free of foot-and-mouth disease to allow imports of fresh/chilled and frozen product.

Beef from these countries that has been heat-treated may be used in microwavable, near ready-to-eat products.

Looking ahead. Imports for 2005 are expected to increase less than 1 percent from 2004.

While the domestic supply of lean beef will remain low in 2004, it is unlikely to decrease any more because of a leveling off in cow slaughter next year.

Furthermore, the supply of fat trimmings with which lean processing beef is mixed may be limited because of declining beef production.

Recent relatively high prices for trimmings and low prices for imported processing beef suggest that such a situation may have already developed, to some degree.

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