Bone-in beef exports to Taiwan would benefit U.S.

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — U.S. beef exports are holding up well in 2009. But year-to-date, beef exports to Taiwan have fallen by almost 30% compared to last year.

Phil Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, explained as one of the first Asian countries to reopen to U.S. beef following the B.S.E.-related market closures, Taiwan was a top-five beef export market from 2005 through 2007. It was the sixth-largest value market for U.S. beef in 2008 ($127.7 million) and eighth-largest in terms of volume (27,313 metric tons or 60.2 million lbs.).

U.S. beef continues to face severe market-access restrictions in Taiwan, Mr. Seng charged. Currently, Taiwan only allows boneless muscle cuts from cattle 30 months of age or less, while prohibiting all bone-in cuts and variety meat. When combined with a stronger U.S. dollar and sluggish economy, these conditions are creating a difficult economic environment for U.S. beef.

"Taiwan has been very important to us especially in the wake of B.S.E. because they were one of the first markets in Asia to open up in a meaningful way," Mr. Seng said. "But because we can only sell boneless beef less than 30 months of age, we are working on chilled middle-meat promotions. The real volume for our products would be the short ribs, the bone-in beef. They like their bone-in beef in Taiwan much like they do in Korea."

Not having a bone-in agreement with Taiwan is hurting the U.S., he added.

The decline of beef imports may have contributed to a recent upswing in pork sales to Taiwan. But Mr. Seng insists there’s plenty of room for both products in this market if better market access is permitted.

"Taiwan has always been a huge market for pork, especially pork variety meat," Mr. Seng said. "But I think the proliferation of pork exports is an expression of the fact there is not the level of beef in that market that it would normally have. But that doesn’t mean that the pork market will have to go down. I think if we could also supply a plethora of beef products they would like to have in that market, that would be very helpful for the beef industry and the Taiwanese consumers, in general.

"We know in Taiwan, from the work we have done in the past up until 2003, there is tremendous interest in procuring our product," Mr. Seng continued. "But frankly, the thing that can help us the most in that market would be for the U.S. government to agree to a bone-in protocol. I think Taiwan would like to have a staged-in approach for bone-in — even in (beef from cattle) less than 30 months of age. It would be significant for our industry and it would make the difference basically of Taiwan being a plus or minus market for the remainder of the year.

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