At a gathering in Denver this week, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) regional directors updated USMEF international staff members and guests on programs and progress for meat exports around the world. Overall, the outlook for 2013 beef exports is positive, although challenges remain in some countries.
Mexico and Central America
The NAFTA agreement allows excellent market access in Mexico, and the country is the volume leader for imports of U.S. beef, pork and lamb. Over the past year, Mexico eased restrictions on imports of certain beef cuts and now is open to virtually all U.S. beef from cattle 30 months of age or younger.
USMEF staff historically has worked directly with retailers and large importers in Mexico to build demand for U.S. beef. They recently have expanded their efforts to include smaller markets and grocery chains. About 400 grocery stores in Mexico voluntarily identify and promote U.S. beef at the point of sale, building customer loyalty for U.S. products.
The Mexican market has been difficult for U.S. beef in recent years due to the economic downturn, which has hit the country hard since 2008. The monetary exchange rate makes U.S. beef expensive compared to competing meats, and many Mexican consumers are turning to less costly proteins.
In Central America, the 2012 free trade agreement with Panama will bring progressive reductions in tariffs for U.S. beef. In addition to Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador have significant potential for U.S. beef exports.
Europe, Russia and the Middle East
U.S. beef has a good reputation in Europe, and exports did well during 2012 in spite of disruptions in the European economy and stiff competition from lower-priced beef from Brazil and other exporters. Economic factors probably will limit gains in exports to Europe this year, but USMEF hopes to at least maintain current levels.
Russia joined the World Trade Organization in 2012, and part of the agreement was for higher country-specific quotas for beef imports. In the long-term, the agreement should be positive for U.S. beef exports, but Russia recently imposed a ban on beef from cattle fed ractopamine, which largely cuts U.S. beef out of the market.
USMEF notes significant progress in the Middle East, with beef exports up 20 to 25 percent to some countries. Egypt imports about 100,000 tons of beef variety meats annually, mostly livers. Exports of muscle meats also have increased to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia, however, shut down imports of U.S. beef following the BSE case in a California dairy cow in April 2012.