Tsunami of Interest' in Securing U.S. Beef

USMEF celebrates opening of Taiwan market as consumers and retailers enthusiastic about end of a ban on U.S. boneless beef. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: May 5, 2005

Speaking from Taiwan, U.S. Meat Export Federation Philip Seng says Taiwan retailers had a "tsunami of interest" in securing initial shipments of U.S. Seng adds the partial reestablishment of beef trade with Taiwan has also created a wave of excitement from consumers.

Taiwan opened its borders to U.S. boneless beef on April 16, ending a 16-month drought. To date only air shipments have been delivering U.S. beef. Costco, which has four major stores in Taiwan, indicates it will be purchasing U.S. product at pre-ban levels as soon as supply allows. Costco has rationed U.S. product since the opening of the market so strong is the demand. They are excited about boat shipments of beef expected possibly as soon as May 17th to provide consumers with more U.S. beef.

In 2003, the United States exported $76.5 million worth of beef and beef variety meat to Taiwan. Boneless beef, now eligible for export, accounted for $56.8 million or 74% of total U.S. beef exports to Taiwan. U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports to Taiwan totaled 19,184 metric tons (mt) (chilled and frozen) in 2003 with boneless beef accounting for 66% of the total.

U.S. beef exports to Taiwan are projected to reach 8,000 mt by year-end, according to Seng. USMEF’s work in Taiwan is not done, as plans for market expansion are already in the works. It all begins with the return of bone-in short ribs, a popular item in Taiwan, accounting for up to 35% of U.S. exports in 2003.

"We are not as bullish with our forecasts because the bone-in product is not eligible for export to Taiwan at this time," Seng says. "We also recognize among Asian markets, Taiwan is not at the top of per-capita consumption, but it does allow for room to grow." Taiwan doesn't represent a large beef market based on per capita consumption, with the 22 million population eating an average of 3.2 kilos each per year, adds Seng.

USMEF is introducing new cuts into the marketplace to create interest and demand. Along with new cuts come new cooking concepts, such as Western-style cooking methods to appeal to consumer curiosity in novel dishes and dining experiences.

Laying groundwork for South Korea

The agreement only allows imports of boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age. Seng says the progress made with Taiwan could have a positive impact on making headway with South Korea trade resumption.

"This is pure speculation but I see Taiwan being helpful in the Korean market," Seng says. "Korea is still the wild card." In terms of approaching scientific issues, both Taiwan and South Korean governments kept the negotiations mostly out of the press. This has been very effective in trying to keep things more scientific based, Seng explains. "It is very important how we manage the issue and not give it life and legs like it has in Japan."

Because most Asian markets have a similar ratio between boneless and bone-in beef imports, Seng says Taiwan may also be a leader in advancing the full reestablishment of trade. He says in the next two to three months the topic of resuming trade on bone-in cuts will be explored further.