Beef imports to South Korea pass 1 billion USD

Beef imports to South Korea pass 1 billion USD

A sharp increase last year in imports of refrigerated US beef for steak and other purposes sent the US beef import total past 1 billion USD for the first time since statistics have been kept. According to import and export trade statistics from the Korea Customs Service on January 14th, US beef imports from Jan. to Nov. 2017 totaled 1,096,010,000, USD. Cumulative imports as of November are projected to reach a historic high, exceeding the total of 996,980,000 USD for the entire year before. Last year marked the first time since 2000 that annual US beef imports topped 1 billion USD.

Volumes also increased sharply. As of Nov. 2017, US beef imports totaled 166,432 tons, passing the 150,678 tons in imports recorded in 2016. Following beef import liberalization in 2001, US product ranked a solid first place in the South Korean imported beef market before a full-scale ban on imports was imposed when US mad cow disease cases surfaced in 2003. The US subsequently demanded a resumption of beef imports. After several rounds of negotiations between the South Korean and US government, the decision was made in 2008 to resume full-scale beef imports from cattle younger than 30 months. The latest figures show imports have now swiftly returned to their level before the mad cow disease situation.

Imports for refrigerated US beef have grown especially rapidly. Between Jan. and Nov. 2017, a total of 39,799 tons of refrigerated US beef were imported, an 81% increase from the same period in 2016. In terms of monetary value, imports were up 85.6% to 358,430,000 USD for the same period.

A source with the US Meat Export Federation, which is in charge of promoting US beef and pork, explained that this was the result of “growing demand for refrigerated US beef not just from ordinary families but also steak restaurants and large grilling and other restaurants.” While past US beef imports had chiefly involved frozen beef – which is relatively inexpensive and easy to ship – South Koreans’ US beef tastes now seem to be shifting toward refrigerated product.

With US beef imports growing, total beef imports are also projected to reach record levels for a second straight year. Beef import volumes for Jan. to Nov. 2017 stood at 358,984 tons, up 3.5% from the same period in 2016. When December imports are factored in, industry observers are predicting the total will easily surpass the previous annual import record of 366,390 tons in 2016.