China is now challenging the United States as our second biggest beef export market as Australia's cattle slaughter rate hits a four-year high.
Our beef exports to China reached almost 23,000 tonnes in May, only 355 tonnes below the 23,323 tonnes shipped to America.
Japan is still our biggest export market in volume terms with exports of 26,841 tonnes in May, up 21pc on April, according to latest trade statistics from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
Our beef exports to China in the first five months of 2019 have jumped a whopping 61pc year-on-year to 95,428 tonnes.
In the same period our exports to the US climbed 12pc to 102,878 tones while shipments to Japan declined by nine per cent to 114,686 tonnes.
Exports to China in the 12 months to the end of May soared 56pc to 198,703 tonnes compared with shipments of 242,401 tonnes to the US and 304,909 tonnes to Japan.
China's hunger for our beef is being exacerbated by a worsening outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) which is devastating its pig herd, the world's largest.
ASF has been dubbed "pig Ebola" and has spread to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Cambodia, and North Korea.
Meat supply in China is being made even tighter by a border crackdown on a black market trade through its immediate neighbours.
The trade includes buffalo meat from India which arrives via Vietnam to circumvent a ban by Beijing.
Indian exporters want Beijing to allow them to sell directly to China again to alleviate a worsening protein shortage.
Meanwhile, MLA late last week reported the drought-triggered sell-off of cattle had continued in May, adding to mounting losses of breeding cows to slaughter.
"Elevated female slaughter points to the continuation of a significant liquidation phase in the national herd and market reports confirm the prevalence of cows at recent sales," the MLA said in its slaughter report of June 6.
"During the last four weeks, weekly slaughter averaged 153,000 head per week in the eastern states, up six per cent on the same period in 2018," the MLA said.
"In NSW and Queensland, an average of 60,000 females were slaughtered per week over this same period - up 16pc on 2018.
"At this level, female slaughter in NSW and Queensland remains below the highs of May to June 2015, when an average of 62,000 females were slaughtered per week. That said, the current high numbers are being derived from a smaller national herd."
Despite the heavy turn-off, the benchmark eastern young cattle indicator (EYCI) has made a slight recovery and on Monday morning was sitting at 487.25c a kg carcase weight.
While the EYCI remains slightly above year-ago levels, the overall lack of restocker competition has kept the indicator six per cent below the five-year average.