Poultry meat is now traded between countries more than any other meat (chart 1). The main regions of the world for poultry meat exports and imports are shown in charts 2 and 3 respectively.

Which country is the world’s largest exporter of poultry meat? This question was easy to answer in the past because U.S. exports dominated international trade. However, there are now two contenders for the title. Brazil has joined the USA as a major source of chicken for importing markets.

Reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service have focused on broiler meat exports by major exporting countries, which are expected to total nearly 8.9 million metric tons in 2011. This would be a 1.4% increase over the 8.79 million tons exported by these countries in 2010.

For 2010, the USA could claim a contribution of about 3 million metric tons, but Brazil’s exports have been assessed at up to 3.6 million tons with a value of $6.3 billion.

Brazil produced 12.3 million metric tons of poultry meat and exported nearly one-third of it to more than 150 countries in 2010. Figures proposed for 2011 are a production volume of 12.9 million tons, with record exports of 3.8 million tons or approximately 30% again.

Brazilian poultry association União Brasileira de Avicultura, UBABEF, reported that the value of national poultry meat exports passed $4 billion in the first six months of 2011 as the volume reached 2 million metric tons. As for all exporters, a key issue that remains is whether currency exchange rates will affect the competitiveness of the country against its main rivals – principally, the USA and European Union member states.

Market access   

Trading volumes internationally have been recently adjusted to account for lower import quotas in Russia – previously, the world’s largest importer of poultry meat. At 375,000 metric tons, the Russian quota ceiling in 2011 was down by more than 40% from the 2010 level.

Reduced market access in China has also been a factor, but increased demand from other parts of Asia, such as Japan, the Korean Republic and Vietnam, helped the export potential from the EU-27 and Thailand. In 2011, imports into Japan may exceed 1 million metric tons for the first time.

The expectation for China's broiler meat imports in 2011 was that imports would decline 20% to 230,000 metric tons, while exports would rise 8% to 410,000 metric tons, from an annual production of about 13.2 million metric tons.

In Europe, the position of the EU-27 as a net importer of poultry meat increases against a background of extra domestic consumption, as well as a poor ability to compete against imports due to relatively high production costs. In Asia, lower domestic production and a shift in consumer preferences from fish to poultry are promoting extra Japanese imports. Whereas, in Korea, increased imports reflect a strong consumer demand combined with a tariff-free quota raised to 50,000 metric tons, which runs from May to December 2011.

Preliminary estimates are that the world total for poultry meat exports by all countries will reach 11.7 million metric tons in 2011. This would be a rise of 1.4% year-on-year, to compare with an annual growth of 4% in 2010. The emerging winners are undoubtedly Brazil and Thailand. Increased Thai exports of cooked poultry meat to Europe and Japan fit alongside expectations that the Brazilian poultry industry may soon be the source of one-third of all chicken exports worldwide.

A reminder that the international trade in broiler meat has grown faster than for other meats was presented to the 2011 World Poultry Conference by Nan-Dirk Mulder of Rabobank International (chart 4). By 2020, he declared, trading in poultry meat could reach the equivalent of 17% of global production.

Richard Brown of food market consultancy GIRA shared chart 5 from an analysis of poultry prospects, suggesting that Brazil, the USA and Thailand will continue to increase their share of the world poultry meat trade during the present decade. The export growth will be driven by competitive advantages ranging from low-cost feed in Brazil and economies of scale in U.S. production, to the availability of lower labour rates in Thailand.

Customers of the main exporting countries will continue to vary, with the USA and the EU-27 as the main losers from Russia’s reducing role as a major importer.

The Middle East-North Africa region is seen as becoming an even more important destination for chicken imports by 2020, having already become the world’s largest regional meat importer and accounting for approximately one-fifth of the world’s total volume of poultry meat imported in 2010.