U.S. meat exports to Caribbean surging

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — So far in 2009, the Caribbean has been a bright spot for U.S. meat exports. Pork, beef and lamb exports are all showing double-digit volume increases over the first half of 2008. U.S. pork exports (including variety meat) have been particularly strong, increasing by 46% in volume and 44% in value over 2008, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Pork has not only become more popular with the region’s local population, but also with its hotel and restaurant industries, said Elizabeth Wunderlich, U.S.M.E.F. Caribbean representative. Because Caribbean tourism has been struggling amid the global economic crisis, U.S. pork is providing an appealing, economical alternative for many foodservice providers, she said.

Ms. Wunderlich added with only a few exceptions, market access for U.S. pork has been fairly open and reliable in the region.

"Some of the islands may be down in their tourism by 30% to 40% — it transcends all the way down because so much of the local trade is done at the H.R.I. or hotel side," she said. "So people are trading down to less-expensive proteins and we come in as a very good, affordable alternative. Even in my islands, they’re really not hurting that bad because people are still coming to those islands as tourists, but they’re not staying maybe as long.

"They’re looking at that as an affordable alternative on their menu," Ms. Wunderlich said. "We have really been trying to promote some of the cuts that are new and exciting on the menus in the U.S. with the hot chefs. Cuts like the Crown Roast or the belly. We have been trying to promote the belly down in that market."

While there are some market-access issues for pork in the Caribbean, Ms. Wunderlich says most markets remained opened during the H1N1 crisis.

"We have always had islands that are a challenge," she added, "whether its duties in Barbados or total non-access in Jamaica or what I call the ‘buy one, get one’ (scenario) — you have to buy local to buy imported in St. Lucia. This year the only real challenge we had with the H1N1 was in St. Lucia. They shut the market down temporarily. It is now back open so we’re very grateful we didn’t have a lot of other issues in that market."

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