John Brook, regional director for Europe, Russia and the Middle East at the US Meat Export Federation, said the closure of the Saudi market was a significant blow for American beef producers looking to sell to the Middle East. The decision to lift the ban on Brazilian beef imports has been particularly frustrating, according to Brook.
“Brazil had their latest BSE case around three years ago, and the US has been closed since the case in California in 2012, and we are bitterly disappointed that Saudi Arabia has not been able to find an agreement with the US for the reopening of that market. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest market for beef muscle cuts imports in this region, and we sorely miss having access to the Saudi market,” said Brook, adding the Saudi Market was worth US$30m before it closed.
Iranian tensions hit beef imports?
“Saudi Arabia is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the GCC has a set of standards, which the US can happily comply with. Whether Saudi is trying to be more pernickety about their interpretation of GCC standards, or whether Saudi thinks they are the largest member of the GCC and therefore it is they who set the GCC’s standards… it’s a big disappointment that we can’t conclude the reopening of this market, yet,” he added.
While Brook was unable to comment on the negotiations between the US and Saudi Arabian governments on the ban, many other international observers have noted the recent lifting of sanctions against Iran has strained the US-Saudi relationship significantly. Although the countries remain close trading partners – with the US exporting US$1.3bn-worth of agricultural products alone – many diplomatic initiatives have run aground since the US’s rapprochement with Iran.
Other GCC markets booming
More happily for US beef exporters, the rest of the GCC remains buoyant, for the moment. According to Brook, improvements in meat distribution have driven up demand for higher-quality products.
“Today in these markets, you’ve got a fully integrated cold chain, going through to a totally modern supermarket, which are the same chains as you have across the world. The local consumer is now buying in a retail store in exactly the same way we’d find in the US or Europe,” said Brook, adding that the explosion in eating out has also driven growth in demand.
“The consumer is being exposed to a much, much bigger range of products - they now have a choice which they didn’t have not so long ago. There that involves quite a lot of education – particularly we in the US are promoting a meat because it has fat in it, while a lot of people think fat is not a good thing to have,” he explained.
“So we have to constantly pass the message about what marbling is, how it affects the quality attributes of the meat, and the fact there’s good fat and bad fat,” Brook added.