How much beef did the EU trade in 2021?

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Our previous article explored how EU beef production performed in 2021. With full-year data available from the European Commission, we take a look at how much beef was traded by the bloc during the year.

The EU as a whole is largely self-sufficient in beef, producing more than is consumed domestically each year, leaving a (relatively small) exportable surplus (about 8-10% of production). An even smaller quantity of beef is imported (about 4-6% of production) to satisfy market demands, and mostly consists of fresh boneless beef from the UK and higher-value fresh/frozen product from South America (each respectively accounting for 33% and 54% of imports on average from 2019-2021).

In 2021, the EU exported 457,000 tonnes (product weight) of fresh and frozen beef, down 2% year-on-year. During the same period, 218,000 tonnes of beef was imported, 8% less than in 2020.

Trade between Ireland and the UK held the most influence over the EU’s total external trade volumes, reflecting Brexit-related disruption, particularly in the first quarter of the year.

Exports to the UK fell by 10% year-on-year to 213,000 tonnes. This outweighed notable increases in shipments to many other countries; including Japan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Norway, and the Philippines.

Imports from the UK fell by 24% to 61,500 tonnes. Volumes from South American countries were mixed, with Brazil and Uruguay sending more, and Argentina and Paraguay sending less. Government-imposed export restrictions are still in place on beef exports from Argentina, and are reportedly expected to remain so until the end of 2023.

For 2022, the EU Commission forecasts that trade in both directions will increase year-on-year. Exports are expected to grow, boosted by increasing demand from high-value markets like Hong Kong and Norway, while increased imports are expected to meet growing domestic demand from reopening foodservice and tourism sectors.

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