Beef & Beef Products 2021 Export Highlights

Top 10 Export Markets for U.S. Beef

(values in million USD)
Country 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2020-2021 % Change 2017-2021 Average
South Korea 1,220 1,746 1,843 1,714 2,383 39% 1,781
Japan 1,889 2,102 1,950 1,940 2,376 22% 2,052
China 31 61 86 311 1,592 413% 416
Mexico 979 1,058 1,107 853 1,058 24% 1,011
Canada 791 745 654 727 773 6% 738
Taiwan 409 552 568 552 668 21% 550
Hong Kong 884 964 746 666 500 -25% 752
European Union-27 251 228 192 150 167 11% 198
Indonesia 54 62 85 72 118 65% 78
Chile 66 64 68 51 95 87% 69
All Others 690 774 795 603 847 40% 742
Total Exported 7,263 8,357 8,094 7,638 10,576 38% 8,386

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Trade Data - BICO HS-10


In 2021, the value of U.S. beef and beef product exports increased 38 percent over 2020, to a record value of $10.6 billion. Robust demand from China and, to a lesser extent, other East Asian economies contributed to the expansion in U.S. beef exports. Exports to Japan valued at $2.4 billion, South Korea at $2.4 billion, and China at $1.6 billion accounted for 60 percent of total U.S. export sales. South Korea became the top destination for U.S. beef exports on a value basis where growth in the retail sector has largely driven demand for beef. Exports of U.S. beef to China continued to increase in the second year after China’s removal of certain market access barriers, and amid higher incomes in China’s second and third tier cities. Specifically, rising incomes led to more demand for high quality grain-fed beef, thus helping to increase U.S. market share by value in China from 2 percent in 2020 to 11 percent in 2021. Although Australia is the top U.S. competitor for high quality grain-fed beef, the ongoing effects from Australia’s 2-year drought in 2018-2019, coupled with political issues between Canberra and Beijing have decreased Australian competition—thereby expanding opportunities for U.S. exports. Overall, beef exports accounted for 11 percent of U.S. domestic production. In 2021, the United States was the world’s largest beef producer, second-largest importer, and second-largest exporter by volume.


  • The United States - Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) continued to benefit U.S. beef exporters by lowering the tariff rate to 10.6 percent. Prior to KORUS, tariffs on U.S. beef imports were as high as 40 percent.
  • Beef prices increased dramatically through the middle of 2021 due to supply-side issues and firm demand which increased the value of exports.
  • Exports of U.S. beef to China continued to grow in the second year after China’s removal of certain market access barriers. U.S. beef exports amounted to 6 percent of China’s total imports on a volume basis and 11 percent by value.
  • Exports to Mexico recovered from pandemic-related lows in 2020, although they have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. On a value basis, Mexico ranked fourth while becoming the largest destination by volume for beef variety meat exports.
  • Total beef and beef product exports to the Philippines and Indonesia remained firm in 2021 as the Philippines relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions. However, U.S. exports are still below pre-pandemic levels.
  • U.S. exports to Indonesia reached record levels due to strong demand for beef variety meat, which made up 45 percent of U.S. exports.
  • U.S. exports to Latin America and the Caribbean were also strong. The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) phased out import duties on beef which led to records in both value ($137.3 million) and volume (20,991 metric tons) while Colombia, Chile, and Peru registered record value and volume growth.

Global Beef Exports

Stacked bar graph showing global beef exports in 2021.  The top three exporters are the U.S. Brazil, and Australia.

Looking Ahead

For 2022, U.S. beef exports are forecast to decline slightly. Australia, a major competitor in high-quality beef exports, is expected to improve its domestic supply this year and create headwinds for U.S. exports to Asia. Furthermore, Brazil and Argentina will resume beef exports to China in 2022 after they experienced a series of disruptions in 2021. China suspended imports from Brazil between September and December because of an atypical Bovine spongiform encephalopathy case. Argentina imposed export restrictions on certain beef cuts to curb inflation concerns. While Argentina continues to enforce some export controls, Brazil’s reentry heralds more competition in frozen beef products in the third most valuable U.S. export market. The U.S. cattle supply is also declining due to cyclical trends and high feed prices. As COVID-19 conditions improve, demand from retail and hotel, restaurant, and institutional sectors will increase. The combination of these factors, in addition to increased competition, lower production, and recovering demand, indicates a mixed outlook for U.S. beef exports in 2022. While the United States is projected to maintain its position as the world’s second-largest exporter, it will be difficult for exporters to surpass 2021’s numbers.

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