Following two months of year-on-year growth, the latest data from HMRC indicates that beef and veal exports slowed during July. At 7.4 thousand tonnes, export volumes were 13% behind both year earlier levels and the previous month.
The decline was primarily driven by lower shipments of fresh/chilled product to the Netherlands, which were reportedly 32% back on 2016 levels. This continues a downwards trend seen throughout 2017. Shipments to Ireland during the month were also 15% down year-on-year, again following the year-to-date trend, although shipments had been picking up slightly in the previous two months. Nonetheless, exports to Hong Kong countered the overall downward trend and increased 41% on the year.
As was the case earlier in the year, available supplies may have been limiting exports. Having slowed in previous months, retail sales volumes of fresh/frozen beef were 3% higher year-on-year in the 4 weeks ended 13 August. Meanwhile, domestic production was 2% back on the year across June and July, suggesting there would have been an uptick in demand for the available UK beef on the domestic market. This is further evidenced by the upwards momentum in farmgate prices at the time.
Following from the tight supplies, there was a modest 2% increase in beef and veal imports in July, compared to the previous year, reaching 20.1 thousand tonnes. Although, the value of these shipments was 5% higher on the year at £77.1 million, at least partially due to further weakening in the value of sterling.
Ireland remained by far the primary supplier of imported beef to the UK market, supplying 72% of total import volumes. Shipments were 7% higher year-on-year during July, with some shift towards supplying cheaper frozen product and fresh/chilled carcases. This could perhaps be an attempt to mitigate the higher cost of imports due to the weakness of sterling. Polish shipments were also higher on the year, likely reflecting increased production and greater price competitiveness compared to Irish product.