In 2014 Italian beef imports increased four per cent on the year earlier to 413,000 tonnes âˆ’ the first year on year increase since 2010.
Imports from other member states account for the majority of Italian imports. Shipments from France and Poland were up five and 19 per cent respectively on the previous year, while they were 20 per cent higher from Ireland. Outside of the EU Brazil continues to be the largest supplier to Italy, although it sent slightly less beef than it did in 2013. In fact it would appear that imports from smaller South American suppliers in general suffered in 2014, with volumes from Uruguay and Argentina also lower than in the year earlier. In contrast, Australian shipments to Italy increased by around three quarters, most likely on the back of production significantly increasing in Australia as a result of drought conditions during the year. The unit price of beef exports from most EU countries was down on the previous year. This may have been as a result of an in increase in supply in countries like Australia and Russia placing a ban on EU imports towards the second half of 2014.
According to Eurostat, the trend of declining production in Italy continued in 2014 for the fourth consecutive year. This coincides with high retail prices for beef and a struggling economy which has resulted in beef becoming less affordable for Italian consumers. The increase in imports last year does not fully compensate for the decline in domestic production. In addition, at the same time Italian beef exports remained almost the same which indicates that consumption of beef fell again in 2014 and per capita beef consumption continued on its downwards trend.
Production this year is forecast to recover slightly on the back of a small increase in the number of cattle available for slaughter. However, beyond 2015, domestic production may be slow to recover and the situation may even get worse before it gets better should a greater number of female animals enter the breeding herd as opposed to being destines for slaughter. According to Eurostat data, heifers more than two years old not for slaughter increased by 29,000 head on the year earlier. However, some of these may be destined for dairy production as the number of non-dairy cows appeared to have declined slightly in 2014. Likewise, the number of male animals on the ground also recorded a decline in 2014, with imports of live cattle lower than in 2013.
Looking ahead it appears that domestic production in Italy is not set to recover in the short term. The current challenging economic conditions are not conducive to increasing consumption of beef, especially with beef retail prices hitting record highs internationally. It is likely that Italy will continue to be the largest importer of beef in the EU and there may be increased opportunities for exporters, provided consumption at least declines at a slower pace than domestic production in 2015.