USMEF CEO Philip Seng speaking at spring conference USMEF

USMEF conference highlights trade environment

Longtime USMEF CEO Philip Seng to be replaced by Dan Halstrom on Sept. 1.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) opened its Spring Conference Wednesday in Arlington, Va., with an extensive discussion of the current international trade environment and a review of year-to-date export results for U.S. pork, beef and lamb.

USMEF chairman Bruce Schmoll, a soybean and corn producer from Claremont, Minn., recapped the very strong first-quarter results for U.S. red meat exports. Schmoll noted that Mexico is a terrific destination for U.S. pork, and USMEF’s new product development and consumer education efforts continue to bolster per capita pork consumption in Mexico.

U.S. beef exports to Mexico are also trending upward in 2017, but the main drivers of beef export growth in the first quarter were the mainstay Asian markets of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Home meal replacement is a rapidly growing segment in Asia and especially in Korea, Schmoll said, noting that he and his family hosted a team of Korean buyers last year who specialize in home meal replacement items.

Schmoll also discussed the recent decision by Costco-Korea to convert the chilled beef meat cases at all 15 of its locations to 100% U.S. beef.

“With Costco being such a respected trend-setter for Korean consumers and other Korean retailers, the long-term, positive impact for U.S. beef will reach well beyond the walls of these Costco warehouses,” he said.

USMEF president and chief executive officer Philip Seng offered a historical perspective on red meat trade with Japan, explaining the impressive gains made in this market despite significant trade barriers. He noted that Japan has imported $62 billion of U.S. beef and pork over the past 30 years, despite a temporary closure of the market to U.S. beef due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy and an even longer period in which U.S. exports to Japan were restricted to beef from cattle under 21 months of age.

Seng cautioned that the U.S. may be underestimating the importance of constructive relationships with key trading partners, citing Mexico as an example of a country that is actively seeking alternative food suppliers.

“For the past 70 years, the hallmark of our agricultural trade policy with countries that can’t be self-sufficient in food production has been, ‘You don’t have to be self-sufficient, but you can be food secure with the United States as your partner,’” Seng said. “When we start talking about playing by a different set of rules, these countries look to diversify. As Mexico begins to look south, they’ll find that they can source pork and beef from different suppliers, and that’s a very important development.”

Changing of the guard

The federation also announced that Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president for marketing, will become president on Sept.1 and will assume the title of president and CEO on Dec. 1. Seng will remain with the organization as CEO emeritus through July 2018.

USMEF past chairman Roel Andriessen, who chaired the search committee charged with finding and recommending candidates for the position of USMEF president, explained the extensive process that led the committee to identify Halstrom as its leading candidate. Andriessen also paid tribute to Seng for his decades of service to the organization, which Seng joined as Asia director in 1982 – just six years after USMEF was founded.

Andriessen told Seng: “On behalf of the USMEF Executive Committee and USMEF members and staff, we applaud your leadership and vision for this industry, which started a long time ago. You are a legend in our industry -- there’s no doubt about that -- and your shoes will be extremely difficult to fill. You will leave behind a great legacy, and I want to applaud you for all you have done for us.”

Halstrom echoed these sentiments, noting that he has learned a wealth of information from Seng, not only during his time with USMEF but throughout his 34-year career in international meat trade.

“I certainly don’t expect to replace Phil Seng, but I hope to complement him with the help of a very talented USMEF team, and that is a tremendous advantage going forward,” he said. “Many people are aware of Phil’s long career with USMEF, and I’ve learned a great deal from him in the time I’ve been involved with the organization, but we also have staff members in key markets such as Hong Kong, Korea and Japan who have been with USMEF for a very long time. They are truly grounded in the meat business, and they are in these markets every day building demand for U.S. meat products and monitoring our competition. I look forward to being even more involved with this group and drawing upon their knowledge and experience.”

Halstrom joined USMEF as senior vice president for marketing in 2010, overseeing promotional activities for U.S. red meat managed through the organization’s 18 international offices. He was previously vice president for international sales with JBS S.A., where he managed global beef and pork sales. From 1990 through 1999, Halstrom directed international pork sales for Swift/ConAgra Foods, Inc. A native of northwest Iowa and a graduate of the University of Iowa, Halstrom currently resides in Ft. Collins, Colo.

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