WASHINGTON — A dozen leaders of state and national agriculture organizations from around the United States visited the Middle East and Europe through a trade mission organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
The goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the potential of these two export markets for U.S. beef, pork and lamb.
The largest food industry trade show in the Middle East, the Gulfood Show in Dubai, was the first stop for the group, which includes representatives from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, United Soybean Board, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Iowa Corn Growers Association/Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Nebraska Corn Board, Montana Beef Council and Merck Animal Health.
“Gulfood is like the Oscars for our industry,” said John Chihade, president of Chihade International, Inc., an Atlanta-based exporter who has been exporting to the Middle East region for more than a decade and is participating in the 2014 show.
“We get to see our customers and our vendors all in one location in a market that continues growing.”
The Middle East region is a stable trading partner for the U.S. beef industry, the No. 4 market in volume during 2013 purchasing 147,696 metric tons of product valued at $276.2 million.
The region combines Egypt, far and away the world’s leading market for U.S. beef variety meat, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is almost exclusively a market for U.S. muscle cuts and higher-value beef that grew 11 percent in value last year to $54.6 million.
It is a smaller market for U.S. pork, although it grew 27 percent in volume and 50 percent in value last year, largely on sales to the UAE, which hosts numerous business travelers and tourists.
“I am here to try to get more American beef for my customers,” said Ahmed Hefni, general manager of the Egyptian Foundation for Import & Export. “All things being equal, U.S. beef is the only choice, of course, because of its high quality. But, price is always a consideration.”
Many of U.S. beef’s international competitors have a major presence at the Gulfood Show. Hefni noted the competition for his business from a range of countries including Canada, the European Union, Brazil, New Zealand and even India.
That sentiment was echoed by Thomas Das, vice chairman and managing director of FANTCO, a leading importer based in Dubai, who indicated that Australian beef is the primary competitor to the United States in the region, although the competition is based more on price than quality.
“The UAE is growing and has big potential for continued growth,” said Das, who noted that the consistent supply and quality of U.S. beef is an advantage that he used to help bring the product to an increasing number of high-profile outlets, including an estimated 110 five-star hotels in the region.
The Gulfood 2014 show includes 4,500 exhibiting companies and 120 national pavilions. An estimated 80,000 visitors from 152 countries are expected to attend.
“Maybe 20 years ago, the Middle East wasn’t looked at as much of a volume market,” said Keith Obermiller who manages international sales for American Foods Group of Green Bay, Wis. “But the UAE is unique in this area. Its beef demand is more advanced and diverse, and disposable income continues to rise. And U.S. beef is very much appreciated here.”