DENVER – Chile recently lifted its 30-month cattle age restriction on US beef imports. This move is expected to have a positive impact on export activity, as Chile has recently developed into the US’s most promising beef market in South America, said Erin Daley, US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) economist. US beef exports to Chile more than tripled last year to $6.2 million, while Chile's total beef imports from all sources topped $700 million.

Daley projects that with improved market access and with South American beef supplies being very tight, US exports to Chile could reach 4,000 metric tons in 2011, with export value exceeding $22 million. She cautions, however, that Chile's onerous labeling requirements have not changed, and they will continue to temper export growth to this market. For example, Chile requires individual labeling of primals and requires the equivalent Chilean quality grade to be designated. These unique labeling regulations increase costs for beef suppliers and can sometimes deter them from serving the Chilean market.

“The additional labeling requirements, essentially add and an extra hoop for exporters to jump through and just adds another cost,” Daley said. “But again there are producers out there that are willing and able to meet their requirements, especially some of the smaller companies who were able to meet the specific demands of the Chilean market.”

Chile, like many of the countries had a 30-month age restriction on imports of US beef,” she said. “Those have been removed so exporters no longer need an export verification program for Chile and are able to ship all products to that market,” she added. “Chile is, by far, the largest beef importing country in South America. We have a free-trade agreement with Chile so it’s also attractive in that sense. Chile’s top beef suppliers were mainly all of the South American countries that are supplying chilled beef to that market.

“It has been a small but growing market for US exporters and our exports to that market were 1,490 metric tons valued at just more than $6 million,” she continued. “But if we look at our standard access and the fact that Australia shipped 4,600 tons there last year, basically doubling their exports from the year before, US beef to Chile could easily exceed $22 million, which would be around 4,000 metric tons.”