The Mexican cattle and beef industry has evolved rapidly in the past decade, most notably in the expansion of beef exports from Mexico, 89 percent of which entered the United States in 2017.

“Mexico is attempting to develop a more diverse set of exports markets, partly the result of natural market growth and partly the result of uncertainty surrounding U.S. trade policy and revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist.

Mexico to expand beef exports

Peel pointed out Mexico is attempting to regain access to Russia and to expand beef exports to China, as well as expanded exports to reach into Muslim markets with Halal certification.

Why should Americans care? Mexico was the third-largest source of U.S. beef imports in 2017, accounting for 19.2 percent of imports behind Australia at 23.2 percent and Canada at 24.7 percent, and just ahead of New Zealand at 18.6 percent. In short, Mexico is a major U.S. trading partner when it comes to the supply and demand of beef.

Mexican beef exports have generally ranked 10th in the world marketplace since 2015, although recent growth in Argentinian beef exports in 2018 may push Mexico out of the Top Ten list of exporting countries.

“Growth in Mexican beef exports has been the result of expanded feedlot production, increased federally inspected slaughter and, perhaps most importantly, adoption of boxed beef fabricating technology,” Peel said. “In addition, beef carcass weights in Mexico have increased steadily over the past decade.”

Mexico also is a significant importer of beef

Mexico also is a significant importer of beef and is projected to be the 11th largest beef importing country in 2018, just behind Canada, adding more importance to the value of ongoing NAFTA negotiations between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“Our southern neighbor is a major market for U.S. beef exports, representing 14.7 percent of total beef exports in 2017,” Peel said. “This puts Mexico just behind Japan at 28.9 percent and South Korea at 16.5 percent. Canada accounts for 10.9 percent of total U.S. beef exports.” Much like the United States and Canada have for many years, Mexico in recent years has exhibited significant bilateral flows of beef exports and imports, with different mixes of beef products all moving to higher values in various markets.

“This showcases markets doing what they do best with the result of maximizing the value of beef production in each market simultaneously,” Peel said. Mexico has exported about 1.1 million head of feeder cattle annually to the United States for the past 30 years, much of it under NAFTA. In 2017, total U.S. imports of Mexican cattle were 1.2 million, close to the long-term average but up 23.3 percent from 2016.

Current USDA-Foreign Agricultural Service projections for 2018 include a slight increase in Mexican cattle exports; however, the preliminary weekly data through early March shows a 13 percent year-over-year decrease for the year to date. Mexican cattle exports are determined by overall cattle numbers in Mexico, market conditions in the United States and Mexico, and the varying effects of drought conditions. “Overall, continued growth in beef production in Mexico may ultimately lead to fewer live cattle exports from the country,” Peel said. “It’s something about which American beef producers should be aware and keeping an eye on.”

Cattle and calves account for nearly $3.9 billion annually in Oklahoma cash receipts, according to USDA Agricultural Statistics Service data.


Donald Stotts. Changes in Mexican cattle industry will affect American beef trade as well. Agricultural Communications Services – Oklahoma State University. March 22, 2018.