Worldwide meat consumption and trade have been steadily rising
for decades, driven on the demand side by rising incomes and
expanding populations and on the supply side by ample feed
supplies, improved production technologies, changing industry
structure, and advances in transportation, packaging, and other
technologies. Expanding U.S. meat trade is a reflection of these
trends. This discussion examines the growth in trade and compares
trends across commodities. Details related to specific traded
livestock and meat products can be found in the Cattle, Hogs, Poultry, and Sheep topic areas.
Meat Trade Data contains monthly and annual data for imports
and exports of live cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats, five meat
categories (beef and veal, pork, lamb and mutton, chicken meat,
turkey meat), and eggs. The tables contain physical quantities, not
dollar values or unit prices. The beef/veal, pork, and lamb/mutton
data are reported on a carcass-weight-equivalent basis. Breakdowns
by country are included. For the current U.S. meat and animal trade
outlook, see the Livestock, Dairy,
and Poultry Outlook report.
The Growing Importance of International Meat
The success of the U.S. meat industry in world markets can be
illustrated in two ways: by measuring how much world meat markets
have expanded over the last 40 years, and by how much the U.S.
presence in these markets has increased. World trade in poultry
meat increased from near zero in the early 1960s to nearly 10
million metric tons by the early 2010s. The trade in poultry meat
accelerated sharply toward the end of the 1980s and has surpassed
trade in pork since 1993 and in beef since 2007. World trade in red
meat (beef and pork) has increased, on average, 4 percent per year
since 1993, versus 6 percent yearly for poultry trade.
Reduced costs from feed conversion and
organizational innovations like vertical integration have allowed
the marketing of inexpensive poultry products to many countries,
some of which cannot afford higher priced beef and pork products.
The U.S. broiler industry increased its share in international
markets from an average of 17 percent in the 1970s to nearly 50
percent in the mid-1990s. Since then, however, the U.S. industry
has lost some market share to Brazil. The export market share has
increased for the U.S. pork sector, especially since the early
1990s, and has exceeded 25 percent of the world export market since
2006. U.S. beef'exporter's share of world trade slipped drastically
following the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
in December 2003 in a dairy cow imported from Canada. The market
share has since rebounded but is still well below pre-BSE
The Role of Trade in U.S. Meat Markets
U.S. meat exports began to accelerate in the mid-1980s, and U.S.
meat producers have become major players in rapidly expanding world
meat markets. The most dynamic U.S. meat sector has been the
poultry industry as both exports and domestic consumption have
increased dramatically. Poultry exports, in volume terms, have
averaged 10 percent growth annually since the early 1990s. The
growth in U.S. beef exports was interrupted in 2004 by trade
disruptions related to BSE (see Cattle: Trade for more information), but have
recovered at an annual average rate of nearly 17 percent since
2004. By 2011, U.S. beef exports were above the pre-BSE level of
2003. U.S. pork exports have also posted strong gains, increasing
at an average annual rate of nearly 17 percent since the early
1990s. Pork exports surpassed beef exports in 2004.
Another indicator of the growing
importance of export markets for all three U.S. meat sectors is the
export share of domestic production. Since the mid-1990s, an
average of 15 percent of poultry production has been exported, and
the share has been increasing in recent years. Growth in pork
exports over the past 10 years has pushed pork's export share of
production to nearly 19 percent annually in the last 5 years. Beef
exports were 11 percent of production in 2011, surpassing the
benchmark level of 9 percent reached in 2003, prior to the BSE
In terms of export value, the top U.S. meat export for many
years was beef because it is, by far, the highest priced meat. The
value of beef exports hit a record $3.2 billion in 2003 before
dropping in response to the discovery of BSE. The value of beef
exports has generally exceeded the value of pork and broiler meat
exports as technical and organizational changes, feeding patterns,
animal genetics, and industry structure have exerted downward
pressure on the prices of these meats relative to beef. Pork is
higher priced than broiler meat. As the quantity of pork exports
has grown, total pork export value has grown more than other meats
over the past decade, and surpassed the value of broiler exports in
The United States is one of the world's largest importers of
beef. Beef production in the United States is geared toward
grain-fed, high-value cuts, while beef imports are primarily
grass-fed, lower-value beef cuts intended for processing, primarily
as ground beef. Pork imports are also comprised of particular
cuts, such as ribs, that U.S. producers cannot completely supply.
The United States is among the top ten importers of pork. Poultry
imports account for less than 1 percent of domestic production.
For More Information, See...
Agricultural Service (FAS) provides data on current U.S. trade;
data on supply and demand (including imports and exports) for major
trading partners; current world market and trade reports (and
attaché reports); and information on international agricultural
trade and agricultural policies of foreign countries.
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a group of
34 member countries that shares a commitment to democratic
government and a market economy. OECD work on agriculture includes
agricultural policies, trade liberalization, and agriculture and
Organization (WTO) is the only global international
organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. The
website includes information about the organization and its
membership and provides access to official WTO documents.