U.S. live cattle and beef trade has increased substantially since the mid-1980s. Total beef imports (cattle and beef, dressed weight) increased from 2.51 billion pounds in 1985 to 3.89 billion pounds in 1998. Total beef exports (cattle and beef, dressed weight) increased from 0.42 billion pounds to 2.38 billion pounds over the same period. Consequently, net imports declined by 0.58 billion pounds. On a value basis, U.S. net beef exports (value of total beef exports less the value of total beef imports) has become considerably less negative, increasing by 88 percent from 1980 to 1998. The overall improvement in the U.S. beef trade was characterized, however, by different trade impacts with the major export customers and import suppliers. These countries are Japan, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Trade relationships and beef price effects in this article mainly address those of the first three countries. From 1990 to 1998, U.S. net imports of live cattle and beef (carcass weight) for all countries declined from 9.2 percent to 5.2 percent of total U.S. beef supplies. Given the average market price for that period and the coefficient of price flexibility, this decline implied an increase in nominal slaughter steer price of $4.00/cwt. However, this price effect was offset by other factors in the domestic market, such as large competitive production, increasing dressed weights, increasing wholesale-retail margins, and a decrease in consumer beef demand. Japan constitutes about 54 percent of the export market for U.S. beef. This country has been the fastest growing export market for high-value cuts of U.S. beef; quantities exported increased by 101 percent from 1990 to 1998. Strong economic growth (until 1997), trade liberalization, and changes in dietary preferences account for most of the increase. The result of these expanding exports, as a percentage of total beef disposition, was an increase in slaughter steer price of $1.70/cwt. U.S. beef and live cattle trade with Mexico has improved considerably (until recent import tariffs on U.S. beef); that is, net beef exports were negative at 357 million pounds in 1990 but became positive at 200 million pounds in 1998. Declines in imported Mexican cattle and increases in U.S. beef exports account for the change. Mexico currently accounts for nearly 20 percent of U.S. beef exports. The result of erasing the trade deficit over the 1990 to 1998 period was an increase in slaughter price of $2.12/cwt. The U.S.-Mexican net trade position in beef and live cattle may remain volatile in the future, however. The U.S. net beef trade position with Canada has declined considerably. Including trade in live cattle and beef, net imports from Canada increased from 2.7 percent to 5.2 percent of U.S. beef supplies from 1990 to 1998. In general, imports (cattle and beef) have significantly increased, while exports (cattle and beef) have increased little over this period. Reasons for the increased deficit include Canadian grain policies and feedlot expansion, U.S. excess capacity in meatpacking, a strong U.S. dollar and intercountry price differentials. The result was a reduction in U.S. slaughter price of $2.55/cwt. Economists, however, consider the U.S.-Canadian beef markets to be highly integrated. Thus, reducing the trade deficit may have little impact on U.S. slaughter price. Overall, U.S. trade in live cattle and beef has not reached the same importance as that of grain. Nevertheless, U.S. export and import quantities measured as a percentage of supplies or disposition imply that producer price effects are not zero. Domestic factors of beef dressed weights, red meat and poultry production, beef margins, feed costs, and consumer beef demand still dominate the price determination picture. The provisional tariff imposed on Canadian exports of live cattle, but recently removed by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), would have slightly increased U.S. price and decreased Canadian price. But with compensating Canadian carcasses and beef entering the U.S. market, and increased slaughter costs, the gains may have been nullified.


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