Where's the beef? Mexico looks to send its meat to the Middle East

The threat of a trade war has Mexico looking to make its meat halal. 

Edgard Garrido/Reuters
Certified beef cattle eat from a feeding fence at a SuKarne meat processing facility in the town of Vista Hermosa, in Michoacan state, Mexico, March 31, 2017.

Mexico's growing beef industry is targeting Muslim consumers in the Middle East for its prime cuts as it seeks to reduce dependence on buyers in the United States.

The potential for a US-Mexico trade war under President Trump has accelerated efforts by Mexican beef producers to explore alternative foreign markets to the United States, which buys 94 percent of their exports worth nearly $1.6 billion last year.

Mr. Trump has vowed to redraw terms of trade with Mexico and Canada to the benefit of the United States. Mexican beef companies fear they may be dragged into a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the three countries.

That has firms looking to the Middle East, where most meat is imported from non-Muslim countries using animals slaughtered by the halal method prescribed by Islamic law.

Mexico, the world's sixth biggest beef producer, plans to quadruple exports of halal beef to 44 million pounds by the end of 2018 from 11 million pounds this year, according to data from the Mexican cattle growers association AMEG.

The country should have 15 plants certified to produce halal meat by the end of next year, up from a current six, according to AMEG data.

Jesus Vizcarra, chief executive and owner of SuKarne, Mexico's biggest beef exporter, said his company sees big potential for sales to Muslim-majority countries.

"We have to seek out more markets," he said in an interview, pointing to near-term targets in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Lebanon.

"There's an opportunity in these Middle Eastern countries," said Mr. Vizcarra, who is known in Mexico as the King of Beef and has boasted of being born in a slaughterhouse.

At SuKarne's sprawling Monarca plant, located 270 miles west of the Mexican capital in Michoacan state, more than 150,000 cows leisurely pick at row after row of grain channels in dusty feed lots.

The plant is the company's first halal-certified facility and earlier this year began its first-ever shipments to Muslim markets.

"Eyes wide open"

Mexico's cattle growers' association sent a trade mission to Dubai and Qatar in late February to meet potential buyers, said Rogelio Perez, AMEG's top trade official

Inspectors from the UAE will visit Mexico by June, after Saudi inspectors were in Mexico in March, he said.

"They left with a very good taste in their mouths regarding Mexican production systems," he said.

Plants must be certified as halal compliant by third-party companies such as US-based Halal Transactions of Omaha or United Arab Emirates-based RACS.

Earlier this year, Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, expressed interest in buying Mexican beef for the first time although no deals have yet been cut.

Sales to Muslim countries would take a bite out of the market share for halal meat held by beef packers from the United States and Brazil, according to industry and trade sources.

Mexico's beef industry is able to grow its export markets due to a successful push to meet exacting US standards and modernize the sector over the past two decades.

That has put Mexican packers in a strong position to diversify away from the US market.

"It was our big strength until President Donald arrived, and now it's our major weakness," said Bosco de la Vega, president of Mexico's state farm council, adding that Mexico should limit beef exports to the United States to a maximum of half the overall flow.

He said Mexico can do so in the next five years.

Russia is considering buying large volumes of Mexican beef, and Mexico is also seeking to expand shipments to existing buyers like Japan and South Korea.

Mexico's herd hit a record 31 million animals in 2015 and totaled 30.8 million in 2016, producing 4.142 billion pounds and exports of 712 million pounds.

Top exporters Brazil, India and Australia each export over 2.5 billion pounds.

"We're on the path of diversification," Mexican Agriculture Minister Jose Calzada recently told reporters. "And we won't stop, because these occasional insults from the United States toward Mexico have opened our eyes."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Where's the beef? Mexico looks to send its meat to the Middle East
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today