Prospects for U.S. meat exports to Asian countries are looking up, says Philip Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

U.S. pork exports are expected to increase by 2 percent to Japan and by 25 percent to South Korea in 2007. 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 issues in beef and avian influenza in poultry

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, says Seng. A USMEF promotion campaign for pork is scheduled for the spring in Japan, the details of which will be announced later this month.

Meanwhile, U.S. beef exports to Japan are growing, and should increase to 60,000 metric tons, 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, says Seng.

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

However, Korea has a different consumer base with different needs, Seng notes. 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 adds. “We can’t treat all countries the same.”

Free Trade Plays a Role

Although beef trade is not officially part of the Free Trade Agreement between Korea and the United States, Seng says 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,” he says.

Seng expects advances to be made in beef trade to Korea by the end of the month. He says 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.

Source: U.S. Meat Export Federation