SEOUL, Oct. 26: U.S. beef imports surged in September, fueled by consumer demand for premium sirloin and rib cuts, a report by the Agro-Fisheries Trade Corp. said Sunday. The state-run corporation said U.S. imports totaled 7,030 tons worth US$43.98 million, or roughly 35 percent of the total quantity of beef brought into the country in the one-month period. In terms of total value, U.S. beef accounted for 43 percent of all imports, as U.S. cuts fetched higher prices than those imported from Australia and New Zealand.
South Korea imported 20,253 tons of beef worth $103.13 million last month. After banning U.S. beef imports outright in December 2003, South Korea allowed boneless beef into the country in April 2007 before quarantine inspections were halted in early October that year. The market was finally opened to most U.S. cuts as of June 26 after a new trade agreement went into effect. The findings showed U.S. beef imports jumped 126 percent in terms of value and 136 percent in terms of quantity compared to August when inbound shipments reached $19.45 million and 2,984 tons.
"There is steady increase in demand for beef ribs that are sold at restaurants," said an official source at Agro-Fisheries Trade. He speculated that at present pace, U.S. beef would easily outpace rivals, especially since the recent gains were made despite the fact that U.S. cuts are not sold at major retail outlets, department stores or large restaurant chains. These businesses have said they will not handle U.S. beef to avoid confrontation with consumer groups who claim that the meat in unsafe to eat. South Korea was rocked by massive nationwide protests after Seoul agreed to lift the long-standing ban on U.S. beef on April 18 this year. Imports of Australian beef, which has been the best-seller in the absence of U.S. beef, fell to 10,501 tons worth $49.47 million in September. The figure still represents about 50 percent of all imports, but is lower than the 70 percent market share the meat enjoyed in May. New Zealand beef, which ranked second, lost more ground with imports falling to 2,312 tons worth $8.42 million. South Korea also imported small quantities of beef from Mexico and the Philippines.