Korean Beef Imports in Jan-23 to Jun-23 Reach Record; Australia Driving the Gains

Frozen Bone-In Beef
Fresh Whole Beef
South Korea
Market & Price Trends
Published Jul 22, 2023
Korean beef imports reached a record for a Jan to Jun period driven by gains from Australia and the US – with Australia’s exports accelerating, those of the United States (US) declining in the most recent months. This occurs in the context of higher domestic beef production, underlining solid demand.

South Korean imports of beef (excluding derived products) totaled 257.3 thousand metric tons (mt) in the first half of 2023 (H1 2023). This represents an increase of 8% year-over-year (YoY) and the highest level for a Jan-Jun period on record.

On the other hand, the average import price during H1 2023 was USD 7.52/kg, representing a decline of 18% compared to the same period last year. Yet, H1 2023 levels represent an increase of 6% over the previous five-year average, making the import volume rise more noteworthy.

Meanwhile, as the decline in the average price more than offset the increase in imported volume, total exports in terms of value declined by 12% YoY to USD 1.9 billion.

The US remains Korea’s main market origin for this product, but Australia is experiencing the sharpest YoY gains. In terms of volume, the US was the main import origin, with 136.5 thousand mt, up by 6% YoY. Notably, Korean imports of US beef showed growth despite lower US production. However, the last two months of H1 2023 showed an annual decline. An atypical mad cow disease case in the US was announced in May, which resulted in increased security measures from the Korean authorities. In May, Korean beef imports from the US declined by a sharp 17% YoY, while in June, they declined by 5% YoY. However, the recent declines in US beef imports and the increased security measures in Korea aren’t necessarily related, as US beef production was estimated to have declined further in Q2-2023 and resulted in a lower export capacity.

Meanwhile, imports from Australia totaled 97.2 thousand mt, up by 16% YoY. Imports from Australia are booming as it is experiencing production growth, in contrast with the US. Australia’s beef production is growing as their cattle numbers climb, expected to reach multi-year highs this 2023, following a herd-rebuilding process in the prior years. In Jun-23 alone, beef imports from Australia grew by 46% YoY. According to Australia Bureau of Statistics data, in Q1-2023, Australian beef production increased by 15% YoY as cattle slaughter, in terms of heads, grew in a similar percentage.

The US and Australia together comprised 91% of Korea's total imports. Imports from other locations, as a whole, declined 9% YoY, mainly due to Australian production recovering.

Source: Tridge and Korea Customs

Source: Tridge and Korea Customs

Moving forward: According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report issued this July, total beef and veal imports in Korea this 2023 are expected to increase by 1.6% YoY despite a 9% increase in its domestic beef production, underlining a solid growth in Korean beef demand. As US beef production continues to decline, it’s likely that Australia will gain more market share in the upcoming months. 

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