By Richard Smith
DTN Tokyo Correspondent
TOKYO (DTN) -- Despite a regain in consumer interest for imported pork, ostensibly because of bird flu, South Korea's pork imports slightly decreased over the past year, both overall and from the U.S.
Contrastingly, beef imports volumes have surged, with the U.S. product the main beneficiary.
Korea Customs Service figures provided by Meat Export Federation South Korea director Ji-Hae Yang show South Korea's January-November overall pork imports very slightly dipped from 422,766 to 421,123 metric tons. During the same period, imports from the U.S. went down 4% from 129,224 to 124,093 tons. December 2016 import figures are not available yet.
South Korea is highly self-sufficient in pork, and domestic production continues to rise, Yang says, explaining the stagnancy of imported product volumes.
However, it appears consumers have gained interest in imported pork, even if that has not been reflected yet in import volume figures. Sales of imported pork rose 8.7% year-on-year from January to November 2016 at South Korea's largest retail discount chain E-mart, The Korea Herald reported. The newspaper explained the rise as being a result of declining consumer interest in chicken because of bird flu.
Things were bright on the beef side, though, with an overall import rise of 25% from 276,852 to 346,878 tons. U.S. beef fared even better, rising 47% from 98,712 to 145,376 tons. U.S. beef market share also rose 6.2% from 35.7% to 41.9%.
Meanwhile, although beef imports from the U.S.' main competitor, Australia, rose 10% from 158,080 to 173,104 mt, Aussie beef suffered an almost 8% market share loss, from 57.1% to 49.9%.
U.S. beef has benefited both from record-high prices and a production decline of South Korea beef, as well as drought in Australia, which has reduced numbers of grazing and feedlot cattle there. "We had drought in the U.S. three to four years ago and we have recovered completely, so that is why we are at an advantage this year," Yang said.
Another reason for the import increase of U.S. beef is recovery of consumer confidence in the product's safety, Yang said. MEF South Korea measures South Korea consumer confidence in U.S. beef with Gallup South Korea every six months. The latest survey, done in December, showed a 52% confidence point, she said.
In comparison, the March 2012 survey showed confidence at only 15.4%, but still up from a very low 5.3% two years earlier, Yang said.
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