In 2012, U.S. beef and pork exports to Chile broke the $100 million mark – $59.1 million for beef and $42.6 million for pork – and reached a milestone, given that U.S. meat products just recently established an initial presence in the Chilean market.
Just five years ago, U.S. pork exports totaled only about $4 million and beef exports were less than $1 million. As recently as 2010, pork exports to Chile were still less than $10 million and beef exports totaled only about $6 million.
According to the U.S. meat Export Federation, a variety of factors contributed to this rapid surge in U.S. exports, including market access improvements for U.S. products and an expanding middle class with a growing appetite for high-quality meat products.
Further, key competitors were temporarily absent from the market. One of those competitors, Paraguay, was banned from the Chilean market on foot-and-mouth disease concerns. However, even as Paraguay is set to re-enter the Chilean market, this year USMEF's South America Representative Jessica Julca says she does not expect grain-fed U.S. beef to lose ground because of its unique position in the market.
"The position of U.S. is a bit different because we are talking about lean beef from Paraguay, so it's more a competitor for Australian beef, for example, not for U.S.," Julca says in a USMEF interview. "The U.S. is in a good position because we are sending choice beef, which has more marbling, so people now consuming U.S. beef won't change to Paraguayan."
Julca does, however, see the Chilean market as a prospect for even more export growth.
"I think we could increase the volume. Last year, we started sending different cuts, for example ribeye or short ribs, so it’s a broad variety of cuts in Chile now."
Based in Lima, Peru, Julca has more than a decade of meat industry experience in both quality control and marketing. She was placed in 2011 when the U.S. Meat Export Federation identified Chile as a key target for growth when it established a more aggressive marketing presence in South America in 2011.
On the pork side, Julca says production setbacks for Chile's largest pork supplier (Agrosuper, which had to close a major facility in Freirina), combined with Chile's desire to continue growing its overseas pork exports, will generate continued growth opportunities in Chile for high-quality U.S. pork.
"Industry says that the export will continue steady … of course that will benefit U.S. pork," Julca says.