Beef imports from U.S. reach a record in 2017

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Beef imports from U.S. reach a record in 2017

Korea’s U.S. beef imports surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time ever in the first 11 months of 2017, official government data showed Sunday, fueled by rising consumer demand.

According to the Korea Customs Service (KCS), beef imports hit an annual record of $1.09 billion in the January-November period. This compared to $966.9 million worth of U.S. beef imported in 2016, and is the highest since 2000 when the country started to keep records of imported beef.

Figures for December are expected on Monday.

In term of volume, the customs office said Asia’s fourth-largest economy brought in 166,432 tons of American beef in the first 11 months of 2017, exceeding the 156,078 tons imported for the whole of the previous year.

U.S. beef had maintained No. 1 status after the country fully opened its market to imports in 2001. But sales fell sharply after a mad cow disease outbreak in 2003 that caused Seoul to ban imports altogether. Restrictions were lifted after long negotiations in 2008 when the country opened itself to buying beef from cattle under 30 months old.

Afterwards, with the signing of a bilateral free trade agreement and rising demand for U.S. beef, import volume has steadily picked up and returned to levels prior to the mad cow disease scare.

In particular, imports of cold-stored beef, which fetch high prices compared to frozen meat, increased noticeably despite a more complicated distribution process.

Through November, such beef imports surged 81 percent on-year to 39,799 tons, worth $358.4 million, an increase of 85.6 percent compared to the previous year.

A representative for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which handles public relations for the American beef and pork industries, said there has been a rise in demand among ordinary household, as well as restaurants.

“There is growing number of South Koreans enjoying steak that is fueling growth for U.S. beef,” he said.

The official predicted there will be steady growth for cold-stored U.S. beef going forward.

KCS, meanwhile, said Korea’s total beef imports from all countries in the 11 months of last year moved up 3.5 percent to 358,984 tons. If numbers for December are added, the total easily topped 366,390 tons imported in 2016. Yonhap
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