US meat exporters eye recovery in Saudi market

New rule in the Kingdom expands shelf life for meat to 120 days, should increase sales growth

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RIYADH: US meat manufacturers are hoping that Saudi Arabia’s change in the rules related to the shelf life of meat imports will result in increased sales growth in the Kingdom.

The US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported that the Saudi Food and Drug Authority recently approved a new rule increasing the shelf life for chilled beef sold in Saudi Arabia by 50 days. Previously the shelf life was 70 days, but the new limit of 120 days may help spur a recovery in sales growth for American producers.

“Saudi Arabia’s previous shelf-life protocol really limited US exporters’ ability to ocean-freight chilled beef to Saudi Arabia. By the time it made the entry, there were a limited number of days available to market that beef,” Travis Arp, the USMEF senior director of export services and access, said on US radio reports.

“Chilled beef was being air-freighted into Saudi Arabia at substantially higher prices. Saudi Arabia expanded their chilled beef shelf-life standard to 120 days, so now it makes ocean-freighting much more commercially viable.”

US beef exports to Saudi Arabia were showing steady growth until the trade was suspended in 2012 when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease, was discovered in California.

Arp said he was hopeful that the new shelf-life rule will be the catalyst for a recovery in US exports to the Kingdom.

In 2011, US beef exports to Saudi Arabia topped 6,600 metric tons valued at nearly SR120 million ($32 million). While in 2019, even before COVID-19 restrictions impacted Saudi Arabia’s food sector, exports had recovered to only 1,539 metric tons valued at $14.3 million, according to the USMEF.

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