Cattle in yards

Australia’s live cattle exports are holding steady year-on-year, having yet to experience any significant uptick in numbers since increased domestic supply has pushed prices down. The latest figures available are to the end of May, and show cattle live export numbers have lifted 2% year-on-year for that period. Looking further back, however, we can see numbers for the past 12 months have dipped 9%, and the numbers for the month of May were 30% below the five-year average.

Indonesia continues to be the predominant market share holder, but the last time we saw live export numbers to that country as low as they currently are for the year-to-May period was over a decade ago, immediately after the infamous live export ban. Year-on-year, numbers to Indonesia are back 5% overall, despite an uptick (77%) in breeder cattle headed to that destination. While this adds to Indonesia’s self-reliance narrative, it is still just a fraction of the actual cattle imported from Australia; 2094 head this year compared to just shy of 130,000 feeder stock.

Vietnam live cattle imports from Australia have fallen if we look at the past 12 months, and for January to May, numbers to Vietnam are 60% below the five-year average. That said, year-on-year things are looking up, with Vietnam getting very close to China in terms of market share for that period. Vietnam is also the reason slaughter cattle export numbers have been higher year-on-year for every month of 2023 so far excluding February. Breeder cattle numbers are also up significantly to Vietnam, lifting 65% in the past 12 months.

Looking at Chinese live cattle imports from Australia, the market has lost significant market share, having finished last year at more than 24% of the trade, and currently sitting at about 14%. While this is still on the higher side of market share for China historically, it still represents a 39% drop in numbers for the first five months of 2023, compared to 2022. Unlike the other two major markets, however, they have risen in throughput for the past 12 months, up 9%. A variety of other markets have increased numbers so far this year, albeit from a very small base, including Israel which has taken 24,750 feeder cattle.

Indonesia is still recovering from the impacts of their FMD outbreak and tough feeder sector trading conditions in recent years, not to mention COVID. There are also reports of Indonesia looking elsewhere, namely Brazil for their live cattle, a trade which Australia has had a monopoly on for some time, however, that is yet to eventuate.

What does it mean?

As cattle numbers increase, the live export sector remains quite dependent on Indonesia. Australia’s lower domestic pricing should start to encourage more trade; however, the top end’s dry season hasn’t been so dry, which could be having some small constraint on getting supply to port. It may be more of a case of waiting for our neighbours to rebuild themselves after some tough years.

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Key Points

  • Total live cattle exports are tracking 2% higher year-on-year for the January to May period.
  • Indonesia remains the largest live export market but is currently tracking at decade-low levels.
  • Extra numbers to Vietnam and a range of much smaller markets make up the total increase.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: ABS, MLA, Mecardo

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