The South Korean market stood out the most for U.S. beef and pork exports during the first quarter as demand for both products gained strong momentum, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported.
Beef exports to Korea were up 23% year over year to 42,551 metric tons (mt), with value increasing 30% to $267.5 million. First-quarter pork exports totaled 51,158 mt, up 31%, with value at $137 million, up 39%.
Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific, was recently in Korea for a customer appreciation event. He said U.S. beef now enjoys widespread consumer acceptance in Korea, which is a major change from the sentiment that prevailed in 2008, when U.S. beef first returned to the Korean market following a bovine spongiform encephalopathy-related closure.
"We decided to do the event this year because we’ve just had incredible momentum on sales and uptake of U.S. beef. It’s on everyone’s lips again. Everyone wants to import, distribute and sell U.S. beef. There’s almost no consumer apprehension about it — safety or quality,” he said.
USMEF has kept working at beef promotion in the region, and Haggard said it really hit a tipping point about 18 months ago.
Additionally, he said demand for U.S. pork raw materials has increased this year among Korean meat processors, and U.S. processed pork products have also gained traction in the market. This is due, in part, to the duty-free status secured for most U.S. pork products through the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 2012.
“The big processors in Korea are incredible raw material sources.They know the prices on any given day, and they told us that the U.S. was far more price competitive this year vis-à-vis European product than last year. That’s showing up in our sales as well, and so we have momentum there,” Haggard said.