U.S. beef exports to East Asia are setting new records this year, according to an analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The U.S. shipped $6.6 billion worth of beef to South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan from January through September, says FAS. That’s a 22% increase from the same time period in 2021, when U.S. exports totaled $5.4 billion.

Overall beef export volume for the countries (FAS lumps Hong Kong in together with China) is also higher for the combined total in the first nine months of 2022, although shipment tonnage to Japan did fall slightly below 2021 levels.

“On a volume basis, exports were up 6.4%,” FAS said in the analysis. “Despite surging food prices in recent months, higher-volume shipments indicate a continued demand for beef products and that East Asia’s relatively stable middle class with high disposable household income has been willing to absorb the rising costs.”

South Korea overtook Japan in 2021 as the most valuable destination for U.S. exports, a trend on pace to continue in 2022. The U.S. shipped $2.1 billion worth of beef to South Korea in the first three quarters of 2022, and FAS says it expects the yearly total to reach $2.8 billion. That would significantly surpass the $2.4 billion worth of beef the U.S. exported to South Korea in 2021.

And the outlook for years to come is even rosier as the long-term provisions of the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, also known as KORUS, further improve trading conditions.

“After 10 years of a South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, tariff rates for beef products such as boneless beef, fresh, chilled, or frozen, sit at 10.6%,” says FAS. “Starting in 2026, U.S. beef products will enter duty-free, and a safeguard duty will no longer apply starting in 2027.”

Safeguard duties essentially put the brakes on trade if volumes trigger temporary tariffs.

U.S. beef exports to Japan were so strong in 2021 that they triggered Japanese safeguard duties, but that’s unlikely to happen again after a deal reached earlier this year.

The U.S. and Taiwan are now negotiating a bilateral pact, but U.S. beef exports to the country are already strong and rising fast.

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U.S. beef exports to Taiwan set a record in 2021, but FAS says shipments will surpass that total this year. The U.S. exported $663 million worth of beef to Taiwan in the first nine months of 2022 – a 29% increase over the same time period in 2021.

Last year, Taiwan removed cattle age restrictions on U.S. beef, but there is still more to be done to improve trade, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

As for China, the country’s beef imports from the U.S. continue to increase rapidly since the Chinese agreed to remove major restrictions in the “phase one” deal during the Trump administration.

The U.S. exported $2 billion worth of beef to China and Hong Kong from January through September in 2022, according to the FAS report. That’s the same value as U.S. beef that was shipped to the two countries in all 12 months of 2021.

Rising food prices in East Asia are a concern, but FAS stresses that the outlook is strong.

“Despite economic shocks and uncertainties during the last several years, no strong indicators suggest the softer global economic environment has weakened beef demand in East Asia,” FAS said in the report. “In spite of supply chain disruptions for U.S. fresh or chilled beef, longer shipping times, and higher costs, import demand for beef products should remain steady.”

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