Challenges abroad abound

by Lawrence Aylward
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SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Philip Seng has been president of the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) for 25 years and has been working on the USMEF staff since 1982. You might assume that he has seen it all in his career. But Seng said Thursday during a teleconference with the media that competition among meat exporters “has become more intense and more visual than any time in my career.”

USMEF’s goal, of course, is to expand exports. But that has been a challenge due to various factors, including the long-running pork dispute, Seng said. For a year, pork exports have been hampered by a work slowdown because of a contract dispute at nearly 30 West Coast ports that handle nearly half of US pork exports. Seng reported that pork exports were 14 percent lower in value and 10 percent lower in volume for the first quarter when compared to last year.

“That crescendoed into one of the major stories of last year, and we’re still feeling the effects of it,” Seng added.

There are also challenges with beef. Export volume was down about 10 percent for the first quarter of 2015 when compared to the same time last year, Seng noted. Value exports were 4 percent higher, however.

“We’re starting to gain a little momentum,” Seng said.

Closure of the Russian market to US meat over the Ukraine crisis continues to challenge US beef and pork exporters. Russia is more than a $500 million market for US beef and pork, according to Seng.

International concern over Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) also continues to challenge pork exports as does bovine spongiform encepalopathy on the beef side, Seng side.

“I don’t know if it’s a perfect storm, but you definitely have a typhoon when you consider what has occurred here as far as some of these developments that have been adverse for the US industry,” Seng noted.

As far as increased competition, Seng said “the world is waking up to the growth in exports.” He noted that 71 countries are now supplying beef to China.

There was a 4 percent increase in protein consumption worldwide in 2014, Seng said. There has also been a proliferation of free trade agreements internationally, another challenge for US meat exporters.

“We here about the agreements that we sign, but we hear little about the agreements that our competitors are signing,” Seng said.
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