U.S. beef muscle-cut exports to Middle East soar in first quarter

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — While the Middle East region has traditionally been a strong market for beef livers and other variety meats, U.S. beef muscle-cut exports to the Middle East in the first quarter of 2009 increased 84% in volume and more than 40% in value over the first quarter of last year.

Simone Bakht, a U.S. Meat Export Federation Middle East representative based in Beirut, Lebanon, says this is an excellent market for a wide range of U.S. beef products. In some Middle Eastern countries, high-quality U.S. beef recently became available at retail, in addition to the hotel, restaurant and institutional sector. He says market access is also a strong point for this region, as U.S. beef tends to face relatively few trade barriers in the Middle East.

The Middle East market is divided into three categories: high-quality beef, variety-meats and the processed-beef products, Mr. Bakht says. "With the high-quality beef market, I’m glad to say we have moved, in addition to the H.R.I. sector, into the retail trade and our products are being sold at retail in countries like Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Most other countries where we sell high-quality beef today are (carrying it in the) H.R.I. sectors."

Variety meats are moving well, especially in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai. "Egypt is a big importer of beef livers," he adds. "They are now also developing an import base for beef kidneys and hearts...especially the hearts for the manufacturing and processing industries. For the first time in 2008, about 5,000 tons of tripe went into the market in Egypt."

Mr. Bakht said one reason for this growth is U.S. beef faces relatively few trade barriers in the region. "We have a very favorable environment and good access," he adds. "We don’t have accessibility problems in any of the Middle Eastern countries. We are working on some issues with the provisional government (in one country) where they have a shelf life for beef livers of three months from the date of slaughter. And that makes it almost prohibitive to get the product in. But as far as accessibility of the product, we don’t have any problems either for high-quality beef or for variety meats."

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