Korea remains third-largest buyer of U.S. beef

Apr 17, 2009
by DTN
Korea remains third-largest buyer of U.S. beef

South Korea has reclaimed its position as the No. 3 market for U.S. beef after lifting a five-year ban put in place following the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. in 2003. Industry sources expect sales to South Korea to continue rising in coming months amid some stability in the currency markets and as the cookout season begins.

“It’s moving back towards business as usual regarding Korea,” said Jim Robb, analyst at the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

“Compared to zero a year ago, they are clearly moving meat through in a very organized manner. They are consistently buying from the U.S. That’s the main reason U.S. beef exports for January and February were slightly above a year ago,” Robb said. “Most of the other markets were somewhat weaker, as you would expect in this economic environment.”

In the first two months of the year, South Korea imported 13,100 tons of U.S. beef, including organs such as the heart and kidney, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

South Korea, along with Vietnam, increased imports even as the top two U.S. beef buyers, Mexico and Canada, respectively, slowed purchases due to weakened currencies.

Shipments to South Korea were a major part in keeping exports a net positive in the first two months of this year. “If we didn’t have access to the Korean market right now, our exports would be below year-ago levels,” said USMEF economist Erin Daley.

Overall, total U.S. beef exports increased 2 percent in volume to 132,612 tons in the first two months of the year. Mexico’s imports declined by 22 percent in volume and Canada by 14 percent. Imports to Vietnam jumped 101 percent.

Australia still top exporter to South Korea

South Korea banned U.S. beef imports in 2003 after an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

It reinstated imports in July 2008 amid street protests against the move. It wasn’t until November that the top three retailers—Lotte Mart, E-Mart and Home Plus— began stocking shelves with beef from the U.S. The rise in sales of U.S. beef has displaced some sales from Australia.

Meat & Livestock Australia chief analyst Peter Weeks said his organization had expected Australia’s share of the South

Korea beef market would fall back to 35-40 percent, from a peak of 77 percent reached in 2006, as U.S. exports picked up. But consumer resistance to U.S. beef meant that Australia was likely to maintain a higher market share.

“U.S. inroads into the South Korean market haven’t been as much as expected as there’s still a fair amount of resistance to U.S. beef and that’s led to heavy discounting,” said Weeks, who had just returned to Australia from South Korea.

The U.S. this year overtook New Zealand as the number two exporter to South Korea while Australia remains number one. Consumption of imported beef is rising in South Korea, and sales are expected to increase.

“Sales of U.S. beef have been steadily rising at around 20 percent every month and imports are likely to increase sharply from next month as the foreign exchange market is stabilizing, and demand is also set to increase sharply during cookout season,” said Park Chang-kyu, head of U.S. beef importer A-Meat.

However, South Korea might not be able to hold on to its number three position this year. Daley said US- MEF is projecting 80,000 tons of U.S. beef exports this year to South Korea, putting it behind Mexico, Canada and Japan. — DTN