Asian Beef Exports Looking Up, USMEF Chief Says

US - Prospects for U.S. meat exports to Asian countries are looking up, Philip M. Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), told reporters in a media conference on Thursday.
calendar icon 2 March 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
U.S. pork exports are expected to increase by 2 percent to Japan and by 25 percent to South Korea in 2007, according to Seng. U.S. pork exports worldwide were up 9 percent in volume and 9 percent in value from 2005 to 2006, partially due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) issues in beef and avian influenza in poultry.

Seng said, however, U.S. pork has established such a solid reputation in Japan that even when the market increases access for U.S. beef, no diminished sales of the product are expected. A USMEF promotion campaign for pork will be conducted in Japan this spring. Details of that campaign will be announced later this month.

Meanwhile, U.S. beef exports to Japan are growing, and should increase to 60,000 metric tons (mt), up from 14,000 mt in 2006. While not up to pre-2003 levels, confidence levels are increasing and demand for the product is expanding.

In fact, consumers in both Japan and Korea have expressed confidence in meat products from the United States, Seng said. For U.S. beef in Japan, the issue has been limited supply of product to meet the demand for the product.

“We’ve been pleased by the interest from consumers in our product,” Seng said. “When we have been able to get our product back on supermarket shelves, it’s been selling out very, very quickly.”

However, Korea has a different consumer base with different needs, Seng noted. Koreans have had a democracy for less than two decades, so the consumer community isn’t as aggressive as you might expect. “How you would deal with the Korean situation is different than how you would deal with the Japanese situation,” Seng said. “We can’t treat all countries the same.”

FTA Plays Role

Although beef trade is not officially part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Korea and the United States, Seng said the issue is definitely playing a role. A visit by Seng to Korea last week suggested the Korean agricultural community may no longer be the only voice in this dispute.

“Other ministries are now closely involved, so in the negotiations we’re going to be engaging in next week, it won’t be just the Ministry of Agriculture; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Ministry of Commerce, and even the Korean Audit Commission is going to be involved in this, because obviously they realize the tremendous benefit of the FTA,” Seng said.

The irony, according to Seng, was that the Korea Agricultural Ministry never wanted an FTA, so a hard-line position that no FTA would occur without beef trade played into that ministry’s hands. By working with the other ministries and communicating the benefits to Korea as a whole, progress is being made, he said.

Seng expects advances to be made in beef trade to Korea by the end of the month. “The Koreans are going to have to lay out their plan to bone-in beef,” Seng said. He said challenges about bone-in trade should be cleared up before an OIE announcement is made in May that the United States is a “controlled risk” country and, therefore, all beef from all animals can be traded when specific risk materials are removed, which is the protocol in this country.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, lamb, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.

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