DENVER — Despite very difficult economic conditions, Mexico finished 2009 as the leading volume and value market for U.S. beef exports and the leading volume market for U.S. pork.

Chad Russell, U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.) regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic who is based in Mexico City, said Mexico’s economy is showing some signs of improvement. This should create a more positive business climate for U.S.M.E.F. marketing activities in 2010.

“Obviously, 2009 was a difficult year for a number of reasons,” he said. “The economy was down more than 7% last year. Mexico was the center for the H1N1 influenza outbreak, which occurred in late spring. So, we’re looking optimistically towards 2010. We believe the Mexican economy is starting to recover. It’s not going to probably be a rapid shoot-up in economic expansion in disposable incomes, but we do see the economy improving. We believe the economic conditions and circumstances in Mexico will provide a little stronger foundation for us to do our work down here and try to build demand for U.S. beef and pork.”

Mr. Russell said two factors working in favor of U.S. beef and pork in Mexico are open market access and excellent product perception by Mexican consumers. “We have great market access here in Mexico for the most part,” Mr. Russell said. “The Mexican market is very open primarily due to the N.A.F.T.A. free-trade agreement, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t threats to that type of access.

“There is always somebody applying political pressures to try to get the government to stop the imports of one product or another,” he continued. “So, we’re working very closely to make sure the markets down here for these products remain open. Unlike many other foreign markets, country-of-origin labeling is not a requirement here. Our market research has told us that if the consumer in Mexico recognizes the product is from the U.S., they will buy more of it. They like U.S. products and have confidence in the quality and safety of U.S. meats.

U.S.M.E.F. has been trying to differentiate U.S. beef and pork at the retail sector in Mexico. “[We want to] make sure U.S. products are well presented at the point-of-sale using recipes and other [materials] to attract the customer to this section of the meat case where our products are clearly labeled.”