Cattle and beef trade between the U.S. and Mexico has evolved over many years to increasingly complex and integrated levels. The long history of Mexican cattle exports to the U.S. was supplemented in the late 1990s with increased U.S. beef exports to Mexico. These trade flows largely reflected the comparative advantages of the two countries: cow-calf production in Mexico and feedlot finishing and processing in the U.S. U.S. beef supplemented growing Mexican beef demand with export flows of products that were complimentary to U.S. beef production and demand. At the same time, Mexican cattle supplemented U.S. feeder cattle supplies.
More recently, the adoption of boxed beef technology, combined with expanded feedlot production in Mexico, increased value opportunities for Mexican beef, including expanded beef export opportunities. Like U.S. beef exports to Mexico, imports of Mexican beef into the U.S. represent specific products, mostly middle meat cuts, which compliment beef production and demand in Mexico. Since 2009, Mexico has emerged as the number four source of beef imports in the U.S. After increasing for many months, Mexican beef exports to the U.S. have decreased five of the last six months and were down 8.4 percent, year over year, in the latest monthly data for October. As result of the recent decreases, year to date U.S. imports of Mexican beef are up only 7.4 percent through October. This compares to average increases of 53 percent each of the past four years.
Though Mexico has been a major destination for U.S. beef exports for many years, exports have declined significantly since 2008. However, U.S. exports of beef to Mexico began to increase in June and have increased 46 percent, year over year, for the five months between June and October. October beef exports to Mexico increased 72 percent compared to the same month last year. Year-to-date exports of U.S. beef to Mexico through October are up 5.5 percent. If exports finish the year above 2012 levels, it would be the first annual increase in U.S. beef exports to Mexico since 2008.
Mexican feeder cattle exports increased significantly due to drought in 2011 and 2012, though exports dropped sharply in the last part of 2012. October imports of Mexican cattle were up 8 percent from the relatively low October, 2012 level leading to the first monthly increase, year over year, since August of 2012. For the year to date in 2013, U.S. imports of Mexican cattle are down 40 percent. Imports of Mexican cattle are on pace to total roughly 940,000 head for the year, down half a million head from the 2012 total and the smallest total since 2009 or earlier.
Lower Mexican exports of beef and cattle, combined with increased Mexican beef imports implies that Mexico is experiencing either increased beef demand, decreased beef supply or a combination of both. It appears most likely that beef production has dropped in Mexico and that limited supply is the major factor modifying these trade flows. Wholesale beef values and slaughter cattle prices in Mexico are at record or near record levels. The general situation in Mexico appears to be similar to that of the U.S.: cattle herds have been liquidated due to drought and other factors leading to an extended period of restricted production and the need for herd rebuilding. The recent changes in cattle and beef trade flows are likely to persist for some time.