BACK TO A NORMAL WORLD MARKET IN 2005?
Canadian beef was recently allowed back on to the market in Hong Kong, the USA is starting to forge agreements with Japan for the return of its beef to the Asian markets and in Europe older British beef will return to the European market in the autumn. The USDA expects global beef exports to reach 6.6 million tonnes and to bounce back after the discruption of BSE in 2004.
This should all spell good news for the worldwide beef trade.
However, even with the extra beef in Europe from the UK following the ending of the Over Thirty Month Slaugther scheme - a control introduced in 1996 to take all older cattle out of the human food chain because on the threat of BSE - Europe is seeing a shortfall in its beef production over consumption. This gap is going to suck in imports probably from South America.
The USA is forecast to remain the world's largest importer of beef, while Brazil is expected to remain the world's largest exporter. Other developing countries are expected to be the big winners in the shift in the world beef trade with Argentina forecast to achieve 25 year high in exports and India, a new player in the market forecast to export 625,000 tonnes in 2005 - an increase of 16 per cent on 2004.
There is a similar expanding picture pork production and trade, despite increasing prices. Demand is growing and the market will be dominated by USA, Canada, Brazil, the EU and China, where production is rising along consumption.
Poultry meat production is also forecast to grow and along with it world wide exports.
While the developed nations of North America, European Union, Australia and New Zealand will still play an important role in the world market, the developing nations are becoming ever more important.
This year should see further progress in the World Trade Organization negotiations with subsidies in the EU falling and export refunds and credits being removed. This will free up the mark and as they in turn grow wealthier, they too will see consumption grow on their domestic markets.
However, while this boost for the developing countries is welcome, as worldwide trade will grow, there are many other issues apart from economic stability and fairness to consider.
No country can ignore basic standards of hygiene for production and safe meat and safe food must be prerequisite for the world market. It is not and issue for dispute or an issue to be used as an artificial trade barrier. It is something that must be administrated and policed even-handedly around the globe.
There also other issues that will have to be taken into consideration during the WTO negotiations and will have to be understood by the developing nations as important aspects of meat production. These issues are animal welfare, the environment and fair labour laws. They are all aspects of meat production and processing that add cost but they are issues that the consumer in the Western world is demanding as the norm.
While developing countries have been hurt by subsidies in regions such as the EU and USA, they have perhaps failed to see that the subsidies have helped to sustain a method of production that is different from their own. It is a method that demands high welfare standards and care of the environment.
To some degree the gulf in production methods can be seen in the differences between the European Union 15 and the 10 accession states. For many processors and producers in the accession states the need to change working practices to meet the EU demands was their death knell. Meat plants and farmers in the old Eastern Europe have found the demands of the European Union to increase their food hygiene and safety measures and to improve their animal handling and welfare practices too great burden.
While this scenario is happening in Europe, countries such us Russia and China, who have acknowledge they need to improve their own hygiene and food safety practices, often block imports from countries such as the USA and EU because he are concerned about the hygiene practices in the meat plants.
In all negotiations, particularly those at the WTO, there has to be give and take. But it appears that some developing nations, angry at being excluded from the world markets in the past are now banding together to have all take. While a semblance or normality might be returning to the world meat market, underneath there are still some bitter struggles to be settled.