U.S. beef gaining traction in Africa but obstacles remain

U.S. beef variety meat exports to Africa through October up 59% year-over-year.

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Africa has emerged as a substantial destination for U.S. beef variety meat and holds potential for beef muscle exports. Market access barriers are significant, however, including high tariffs and product restrictions in some key markets.

U.S. beef variety meat exports to Africa totaled 17,823 metric tons (mt) through October, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), up 59% year-over-year. Export value was $18.82 million, up 32%. These shipments equated to 1.87 pounds for every steer and heifer slaughtered in the United States.

Beef variety meat exports to South Africa, which are mostly livers and kidneys, have effectively doubled in 2023, climbing 97% through October to 12,363 mt. The U.S. supplies 45% of South Africa’s imported beef variety meat and holds 62% of the imported liver market. Variety meat exports also increased year-over-year to Cote D'Ivoire, Gabon, Morocco, Tunisia, Mozambique, Gambia and Ghana.

Livers are the leading U.S. item destined for Africa, but the region is also critical for kidney exports. South Africa (3,173 mt through October) is the top export destination for U.S. frozen beef kidneys, followed by Gabon (1,748 mt) and Cote D'Ivoire (1,662 mt). These three markets have accounted for more than 70% of total frozen kidney exports this year.

Demand from Sub-Saharan Africa has been especially critical to the U.S. industry this year due to economic struggles in Egypt, which is traditionally the mainstay destination for U.S. beef livers. While Egypt remains the largest market for U.S. livers, January-October exports of beef variety meat to Egypt fell by one-third compared to a year ago to 26,500 mt, with export value down 37% to $47 million.

“For several years, USMEF has made it a priority to expand and diversify destinations for beef livers and other beef variety meat,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Given the challenging situation in Egypt, these efforts have never been more important. We are also confident that with beef variety meat achieving traction in Africa, muscle cut exports will emerge as well.”

Sampling programs showcase affordable, ungraded beef cuts

USMEF is using sampling programs to develop demand for U.S. beef in Africa’s foodservice sector, primarily in South Africa but also in other selected markets. These programs are mainly focused on familiarizing importers, distributors and other prospective buyers with U.S. beef cuts that are affordable and highly marbled, but ungraded.

“Through these sampling programs, we have also introduced beef variety meat cuts and beef trim items that have not been promoted in the past,” said USMEF Africa Representative Matt Copeland. “This led to the development of a burger for quick-service restaurants with a high U.S. beef content. The U.S. burger is rolling out at a gourmet franchise chain across South Africa and consumer feedback has been tremendous.”

Funding support for sampling programs was provided by the Beef Checkoff Program, Iowa Beef Council, Oklahoma Beef Council and USDA’s Market Access Program and Agricultural Trade Promotion Program.

U.S. beef muscle cut exports to Africa totaled 322 mt through October, up 10% year-over-year, valued at $3.69 million, up 12.5%. The top markets were South Africa, Gambia, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. Exports to South Africa include some high-end steak cuts for restaurants, as well as beef ribs.  

USDA trade mission to Angola set for February

Copeland will soon participate in a USDA trade mission to Angola – a destination viewed as holding strong long-term potential for U.S. beef. The trade mission was originally scheduled for early December but will now be held Feb. 26-29.

“These are tumultuous economic times in Angola, and our exports have trended lower this year,” Copeland said. “But the Angolan economy can turn quickly and when this happens, the uptick in demand for imported goods can be dramatic. So it’s an excellent choice for a USDA trade mission because U.S. agriculture must be well-positioned to capitalize on opportunities in Angola. Having recently been part of a USDA delegation to Kenya and Tanzania, I find these trade missions to be a very eye-opening experience. USDA is very trusted and respected in these markets and we are fortunate to have them pioneering new trade routes.”

Nigeria: tremendous potential, but access lacking

Market access for U.S. beef remains a challenge in many regions of Africa and there is perhaps no better example than Nigeria. With a massive population exceeding 225 million – sixth largest in the world – and a new administration that has made attracting foreign investment a priority, Nigeria could certainly be a needle-moving destination for U.S. beef. But Nigeria is notoriously resistant to imported protein and was completely closed to U.S. red meat until 2022, when the market opened to U.S. beef and pork sausages.

The Central Bank of Nigeria recently lifted foreign exchange restrictions for many food and agricultural imports, including meat and poultry products. This led to speculation that market access in Nigeria could soon expand to include a wider range of red meat products. But Nigeria’s customs ban on unprocessed red meat remains in place, and the United States – and any other prospective suppliers – will first need an approved animal health certificate before the customs ban is lifted or modified. Therefore, much work remains to be done before U.S. beef gains expanded access to Nigeria, as further explained in this USDA report.

Nigeria currently enjoys trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), and its continued eligibility for AGOA benefits has been questioned due to lack of access for U.S. red meat and other U.S. agricultural exports. If access to the Nigerian market does not improve, this issue is likely to receive heightened attention when Congress debates whether to renew AGOA in the fall of 2025.

Beef access to Kenya is also limited due to both tariff and non-tariff barriers. USMEF is hopeful that these obstacles will be addressed in the ongoing negotiations under the U.S.-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership, which was launched in July 2022. In comments submitted to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, USMEF emphasized the need for relief from Kenya’s trade-prohibitive tariffs on U.S. red meat, which currently stand at 35% – up from 25% in 2022.

Despite numerous challenges, Halstrom views the African continent as an exciting opportunity for the U.S. beef industry.

“When I look at Africa’s urban centers, they remind me very much of my travels to Mexico City early in my career in the 1980s,” he said. “We faced many of these same daunting obstacles in Mexico back then, but today it is one of our most valuable and reliable trading partners. I firmly believe opportunities in Africa will develop in a similar way, and on an even larger scale. And the technology that exists today allows for much more efficient consumer outreach and product delivery, so these markets could develop rapidly.”

Region of emphasis for new USDA promotion program

Halstrom also noted that Africa is a region of special emphasis for USDA’s new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP), along with Latin America/Caribbean and South/Southeast Asia. In fact, USDA has specifically set aside $25 million from the first tranche of RAPP funding to support export development activities in Africa. Applications for RAPP funding are due in February.

“USMEF was already focused on expanding promotional activities in Africa and we are excited to see that USDA also views Africa as a region with great promise for U.S. agriculture,” Halstrom said.

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