Global red-meat issues addressed by U.S.M.E.F.

by Bryan Salvage
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ST. LOUIS — On May 26, the U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors Meeting and Product Showcase got under way in St. Louis. Approximately 200 members heard from several experts on the state of the global marketplace for U.S. beef, pork and lamb.

In his address to U.S.M.E.F. members, Philip Seng, the association’s president and c.e.o., emphasized the fierce competition that exists in key markets and urged the U.S. industry to remain committed to aggressive promotion and product differentiation.

More than 20 pork-exporting countries are competing for market share in Japan, Mr. Seng said. Although the U.S. is the leading exporter of pork to this market and holds an especially strong share of the high-value chilled pork market, he emphasized this position cannot be taken for granted.

“Some people might say that perhaps we are in the post-promotion phase of what we do in Japan,” Mr. Seng said. “But we’re supplying about 72% of the chilled pork in this market and this is fresh pork that is fully ready for consumer use. So the role of promotion is very critical, and it’s not just marketing in a retail or restaurant setting. It’s also imaging the U.S. industry, accommodating the specific needs of our customers and positioning our industry for success.”

Hong Kong, one of the most rapidly growing destinations for U.S. beef, was cited by Mr. Seng as another market where competitors are out in full force. Though limited to boneless cuts from cattle less than 30 months of age, this year’s U.S. beef exports to Hong Kong have more than tripled their 2009 pace.

“There are more than 40 countries currently supplying beef to Hong Kong, which shows you just how competitive the international marketplace really is,” Mr. Seng said. “This also illustrates how important it is that we differentiate our product. Our competition is well aware of the opportunities in these key markets and they are doing everything they can to avail themselves of those opportunities.”

Mr. Seng stressed the advantages of having experienced U.S.M.E.F. staff stationed in major markets and the important role they play in giving U.S. products a competitive edge. “When you go to an international market, you know what you are saying — but do you always know what your customers are hearing?” he said. “This is something we learned very early on at U.S.M.E.F. — that you can’t take anything for granted, and you really have to understand the culture if you are going to be a factor in these markets.”

John Brewer, administrator of U.S.D.A.’s Foreign Agricultural Service (F.A.S.), offered highlights of the recent successes achieved by U.S. agricultural products overseas, and the agency’s strategies for further growth.

“For this fiscal year, U.S. agricultural exports have experienced the best six-month performance on record,” Mr. Brewer said. “U.S. agricultural products exported in the first half of FY10 totaled $59 billion. This figure is more than $7 billion greater than the same period in FY09. We want to help you build on this success.”

Mr. Brewer covered the recent opening of a new Agricultural Trade Office (A.T.O.) in northeast China as an excellent opportunity for U.S. agriculture and an example of how F.A.S. and U.S.M.E.F. work together to grow global markets.

“I’m pleased to announce that on May 13, the new A.T.O. in Shenyang, China, opened to the public,” he said. “This office will focus on the northeast region of China, which has a population of 100 million. In fact, the very first cooperator meeting held at this office was with U.S.M.E.F.’s Shenyang-based representative, Louisa Liu.”

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