South America expands market footprint

18 April 2018

Improving market access to some of Australia’s key export markets - including Asia - is on the South American agenda, with Argentina and Brazil both set to increase beef exports this year on the back of rising production.

While not as large a producer as Brazil, Uruguay is also making inroads into Asia, positioning itself as a niche, high quality beef producer.

As they create increased competition for Australia, it’s worth examining each country’s position domestically and in the global beef market.


Argentina has been rebuilding its beef herd and export market after years of decreasing production.

Total beef exports dropped from more than 438,000 tonnes shipped weight (swt) in 2005, to 111,000 tonnes swt in 2012 on the back of government-imposed restrictions designed to reduce exports and keep domestic beef prices stable. An increasing focus on grain production also impacted its beef industry, as more areas of grazing land were turned over to broadacre cropping. 

Following his election in late 2015, Argentinean President Mauricio Macri removed export taxes on agricultural products, including the 15% tax on beef exports.

Total beef exports reached more than 209,000 tonnes swt in 2017 and, this year, Argentina is set to achieve its highest beef production since 2008/2009 of an anticipated 2.9 million tonnes carcase weight (cwt).

Due to a decline in trade with Russia, Argentina is now focusing on Asia and is presenting strong competition to Australia. Its largest beef export market is now China, with 97,000 tonnes of frozen beef exported there in 2017.

In early 2018, Argentina and China signed an agreement permitting the supply of chilled bone-in beef and lamb, making Argentina the only South American country allowed to supply chilled products into China.

However, Argentina doesn’t have access to Australia’s key high value markets, including Japan, Korea, the United States, and Indonesia.

The Argentinean beef industry expects the US market to reopen this year, and beef shipments will most likely comprise frozen beef trimmings. Exports of premium chilled cuts for high-end supermarkets and restaurants may start to slowly and develop in time.

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay comprise the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur, and an EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement is currently being negotiated.

For more information, read the Uruguay and Argentina market snapshot.


Uruguay’s beef production and exports are expected to ease this year after setting new record highs in 2017, of 590,000 tonnes cwt and 304,000 tonnes swt respectively.

However, it has positioned itself as a high quality beef producer and differentiates itself from its South American counterparts in the global market, based on its national cattle identification system, strict sanitary standards, and extensive transparency along the supply chain. Its largest export market is also China, with more than 160,000 tonnes swt exported in 2017.

Japan and Indonesia are still the major importing countries closed to Uruguayan beef. However, the sanitary services of Uruguay and Japan are working closely to allow trade, which, if approved, would likely comprise of trimmings and meat for further processing.

Further adding to the links between the two countries, Japanese meat processor NH Foods bought Uruguay beef processor and exporter, Breeders and Packers Uruguay, in 2017.  

For more information, read the Uruguay and Argentina market snapshot.


Increased production and only limited growth in Brazil’s domestic consumption are likely to mean higher beef exports this year, creating stronger competition in some of Australia’s export markets, like China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2016, Brazil’s beef production and exports totalled 9.51 million tonnes cwt and 1.07 million tonnes swt respectively.

Its cattle herd has been moving through a rebuilding phase, with numbers rising since 2013 and reaching approximately 215 million head in 2015. Brazil maintains the second largest cattle herd in the world, behind India.

With Russia and Venezuela reducing their market share of Brazilian beef exports, and improved market access in Asia and the Middle East, Brazilian beef has established new export destinations in the past two years.

Market access and sanitary status remain Brazil’s major obstacles to increasing its presence in global markets, particularly in Australia’s key export markets such as Japan, Korea, and the US and Indonesia, where Brazil currently doesn’t have access.

However, the Indonesian government recently decided to reassess the possibility of importing Brazilian beef. If Brazil regains access to Indonesia, beef shipments are expected to be mostly comprised of frozen bone-out products.

Brazil has increased exports to China, Hong Kong, and Egypt; regained market share in Saudi Arabia and Iran; and increased shipments to non-traditional markets such as the Philippines and Singapore.

China has become the second largest destination for Brazilian beef, with 100% of volume comprised of frozen products, satisfying demand in commodity trading beef.

Since regaining market access in Saudi Arabia in late 2015, Brazilian beef exports have consistently grown. Unlike China, exports to Saudi Arabia are comprised of chilled (23%) and frozen (77%) products.

For more information, read the Brazil market snapshot.

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