South Korea’s beef imports totaled 170,176 tons in the first five months of this year, an 8% rise compared to the same period last year.
Consumers in South Korea seek less expensive meat amid the sluggish pace of economic recovery and an anti-graft law, which limits gifts that can be given to public officials, teachers and journalists, the country’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
The anti-graft law, which took effect last September, bans certain people from getting free meals over 30,000 won ($26), gifts worth more than 50,000 won ($43.37), or congratulatory or condolence money exceeding 100,000 won ($86.74).
Gift-giving, meal-treating, congratulatory and condolence money are long-ingrained customs in this part of the world. In recent decades, expensive local beef has been a favored gift in South Korea. Such gifts, however, create opportunities for corruption, which is why South Korea’s legislature has limited the practice.
U.S. beef has been the big winner in the increased South Korean demand for foreign beef, with imports rising 7.5% year-on-year to 63,027 tons from 58,610 tons in January-May. Beef imports from Australia fell a slight 0.2% during the same time period, from 80,891 to 80,713 tons.
An industry source attributed the surge in foreign beef imports to consumers shying away from expensive South Korean beef. “A growing number of consumers are seeking U.S. beef as an alternative to pricey (South) Korean beef, and we expect meat from America will soon regain its No. 1 foreign beef status,” the source said, Yonhap reported.
For their part, South Korea’s imports of Australian beef have been shrinking in recent months after a 2015 drought in Australia reduced the number of cattle there, causing a rise in the Aussie beef prices, Yonhap reported.
Demand for beef in South Korea has been on the rise for well over a decade, Terry Kim, public relations manager for the Meat Export Federation’s South Korea office, told DTN. That demand has been particularly sharper in the Asian market, including South Korea, than in other regions, Kim said.
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Underpinned by economic growth and tariff reductions on imported product, per capita beef consumption is forecast to grow from 15.5 kg cwe (carcass weight equivalent) in 2016 to 17.2 kg cwe in 2030, Kim said. “With growing demand, sales and consumption of imported beef in (South) Korea have been continuously on the rise,” Kim said.
U.S beef has recovered its market-leading position thanks to increased demand and ever-improved consumer confidence in that source of meat. U.S. beef was allowed back into South Korean markets in 2008 following a 2003 ban because of BSE, Kim said.
Korea Customs Service figures Kim provided show U.S. beef took a 64,776-ton (48.4%) share of the total imported beef market last January-May, compared to 49,664 tons (37.3%) for the same period last year, an 11.1% increase.
“With its quality, reasonable price and increasing consumer confidence, U.S. beef is expected to continue to maintain its competitiveness in (South) Korea,” Kim said.