The annual numbers for 2009 suggest international trade is providing more price support for U.S. beef markets than may typically be recognized.

“This looks to be especially true for monthly values late in the year,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist. “It’s an easily overlooked aspect with all the attention given domestic beef markets in the past year.”

Beef exports in 2009 declined less than 1 percent from 2008, holding much firmer than many analysts expected, given the global economic recession.

By contrast, broiler and pork exports declined 2 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Pork exports in particular were severely affected by both the recession and negative perceptions surrounding the H1N1 flu outbreak.

“More importantly for 2010 was the strength in U.S. beef exports late in 2009,” Peel said. “Monthly exports were up 27 percent and 25 percent in November and December, compared to year-earlier levels. No doubt beef exports were helped by a weaker dollar late in the year, compared to earlier in 2009.”

Mexico continues to be a major destination for U.S. beef, accounting for 30 percent of beef exports. Canada is second with 19 percent of the total, with Japan holding down the third spot at 15 percent.

“By a slim margin, rapidly growing U.S. beef exports to Vietnam made it America’s fourth-largest market with an 8 percent share, just ahead of South Korea,” Peel said. “It’s important to be aware that much of the beef shipped to Vietnam is subsequently shipped to China.”

Total U.S. beef exports were equal to slightly more than 7 percent of total domestic production.

Peel points out that total U.S. beef imports were up 3.5 percent in 2009, as compared to 2008 data. However, the current level is less than the previous 10-year average.

On a monthly basis, beef imports into the United States declined 18 percent in November and 31 percent in December, compared to the same months in 2008. Major importers include Canada, accounting for 31 percent of the total beef imports; Australia, 30 percent; New Zealand, 20 percent; and Brazil, 8 percent.

Total beef imports into the United States amounted to 10 percent of domestic production.