South Korea's US beef imports surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time ever in 2017, official government data showed Sunday, fueled by rising consumer demand.
According to the Korea Customs Service, beef imports hit an annual record of $1.09 billion in the January-November period. This already surpassed the $966.9 million worth of US beef imported for the whole of 2016, and is the highest tallied since 2000 when the country started to keep records of imported beef.
Last year's figure did not take into account imports for December that is expected out on Monday.
In term of volume, the customs office said Asia's fourth-largest economy brought in 166,432 tons of American beef in the 11 months of 2017, with the total exceeding the 156,078 tons imported for the whole of the previous year.
US beef had maintained No. 1 status after the country fully opened it market to imports in 2001. Sales fell sharply after the mad cow disease outbreak in 2003, that caused Seoul to ban imports altogether, but restrictions were lifted after long drawn negotiations in 2008 when the country opened itself to buying beef from cattle under 30 months old.
Afterwards, with the signing of the bilateral free trade agreement and rising demand for US beef, import volume has steadily picked up pace and returned to exceeded levels prior the mad cow disease scare.
In particular, imports of cold-stored beef, that fetch high prices compared to frozen meat, increased noticeably despite the more complicated distribution process.
Up till November, such beef imports surged 81 percent on-year to 39,799 tons, worth $358.4 million, an increase of 85.6 percent compared to the previous year.
A representative for the US Meat Export Federation that handles public relations for American beef and pork said there has been a rise in demand among ordinary households, as well as restaurants that is generating demand here
"There is growing number of South Koreans enjoying steak that is fueling growth for US beef," he said.
The official predicted there will be steady growth for cold-stored US beef going forward.
KCS, meanwhile, said South Korea's total beef imports from all countries in the 11 months of last year moved up 3.5 percent to 358,984 tons. If numbers for December are added, the total easily topped 366,390 tons imported in 2016. (Yonhap)