As part of an ongoing effort to extend the U.S. meat industry’s geographic reach into the emerging Myanmar market, USMEF recently participated in two American food product showcases in Myanmar’s up-country tourist centers of Mandalay and Bagan. These programs were organized under USDA’s Global Base Initiative (GBI), the aim of which is to connect U.S. exporters with distributors and end users in secondary cities. USMEF’s participation was partially funded by the Beef Checkoff Program and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).
USMEF provided training and testing seminars for retail and foodservice industry representatives in attendance, which were well-received.
“For most participants, this was their first opportunity to attend this type of educational session, so they were very pleased to experience an in-depth introduction to U.S. beef,” said Sabrina Yin, USMEF ASEAN director.
Since launching its initial market research in the summer of 2013, this was USMEF’s fifth visit to Myanmar. While Myanmar’s population exceeds 53 million, direct imports of U.S. meat have been negligible due to opaque and inconsistent import rules and a limited number of active importers.
As with many emerging markets, meat imported into Myanmar is presently targeted mostly to foreign visitors, which have surged over the past few years. Arrivals are estimated to have surpassed 3 million in 2014, more than triple the total from two years ago. Tourism infrastructure, including transportation and distribution of food, is struggling to keep up with these numbers.
Singapore serves as the main logistics center for foreign meat shipments destined for Myanmar. Unlike China or Vietnam, Myanmar currently lacks the infrastructure to handle and distribute large volumes of frozen meat or poultry. Although the capital city of Yangon and the city of Mandalay have several modern supermarkets with refrigerated meat merchandising, other secondary cities – including Bagan – lack them. In those cities, meat is sold mostly at wet markets and small provision shops.
“For the time being, hotels and a handful of independent tourist restaurants are driving demand for imported meat,” said Yin. “There is strong potential for retail, but much development is still needed in that sector.”
Official statistics show only small volumes of direct beef exports to Myanmar from major U.S. competitors. However, Australian beef is featured in some hotels and supermarkets, and a limited range of European processed meat products appears in supermarkets – alongside some U.S. sausages.
Under still-evolving rules, Myanmar’s meat importation procedures for the tourist and general markets are being unified under one regulatory structure – which may lead to a less burdensome process for supplying meat to the general public. Presently, an importer’s application is first reviewed by a newly created, quasi-government entity known as the Myanmar Meat Inspection Board (MMIB). The application, along with a recommendation letter from MMIB, is then forwarded to authorities in the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development (MLFRD) before being sent to the Ministry of Commerce for issuance of the importer permit. Applicants must furnish all USDA and commercial documents for the application process. Supplying the tourism industry previously involved a simpler process, and USMEF is hopeful that if a new unified system is adopted, import rules be transparent and consistent.
All U.S. meat is eligible for Myanmar, although poultry imports are currently suspended due to avian influenza. Transshipments of U.S. meat through third markets are allowed, but it’s not clear at this time what range of U.S. meat products will be accepted, as U.S. shipments to date have been limited to beef middle meats destined for hotels.
Importers contacted by USMEF during last month’s event reported that direct shipments of imported meat – mainly Australian beef but also some limited volumes of U.S. beef – have recently entered the pipeline following introduction of Myanmar’s new import system. Importers are prepared to accept larger shipments once the timeline for finalizing meat import regulations is clarified. Imported beef entering Myanmar is subject to a 20 percent duty plus an additional 5 percent commercial tax.
“Most initial mass market demand will be for poultry products and perhaps some beef,” said Yin.
“We are curious to see how Myanmar’s regulations evolve as interest in imports further develops,” added Yin. “Myanmar’s poultry producers have publicly expressed opposition to imports, and some importers believe progress is being held up by local resistance to imported meat and poultry.”
Despite a lack of recent trade history in either meat or feedgrains, Myanmar’s livestock and feed industry is growing quickly. This has been aided by foreign investment – mainly from Thailand – in animal feed production.