U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Philip Seng has just returned from a trip to the Greater China region, where he examined current market conditions for U.S. pork. His first stop was Taiwan. Recently, that country adopted a maximum residue level (MRL) for ractopamine residues in imported as well as domestic beef, however left intact the nation’s ban on pork from hogs that receive ractopamine.

Taiwan is an important market for U.S. pork, and the ractopamine issue remains a key topic for the U.S. pork industry. “While Taiwan’s adoption of a ractopamine MRL for beef is a very positive step, similar action for pork is still needed,” said Thad Lively, USMEF senior vice president for trade access. 

Dropping the ractopamine restriction on pork is much more politically sensitive than dropping the beef restriction but the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is confident that the restriction will be lifted. Earlier this summer, the U.N.’s Codex Alimentarius, which sets international standards for food products, approved a maximum residue limit (MRL) for ractopamine, which U.S. pork meets.

The ban covers all pork in which ractopamine was used in the production process, according to Nick Giordano, NPPC vice president and counsel on international affairs, “This issue is extremely sensitive politically in Taiwan because the pork sector is, by far, the biggest and most influential sector of agriculture in that country and pork producers have more political clout.”

Meanwhile, NPPC continues to explore all potential means of getting the Taiwanese to open their market. “We continue to work closely with U.S. government officials who will be raising the issue in Taiwan this month,” Giordano adds. “There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the ban and the Taiwanese have no legal or scientific basis upon which to stand.”

If Taiwan were to lift the ractopamine ban, U.S. pork exports to that country would increase to $417 million within 10 years, according to estimates by Dermot Hayes, Iowa State University economist. Just $53.8 million of U.S. pork was shipped to Taiwan in 2011.

With regard to mainland China, Seng notes that economic growth has slowed somewhat from the torrid pace China had seen in recent years. But this shouldn’t cool the U.S. meat industry’s interest in the market, because China consumes half of the world’s pork. “When China goes into the market to buy pork it affects the world market,” Seng said.

China is already a key destination for U.S. pork and better availability of accurate market information would help the U.S. pork industry better serve this market, according to USMEF.