As we reported in November 2018, Morocco is now open to imports of U.S. beef. Monty Brown, USMEF representative in Africa, completed his initial visit to Morocco in mid-December. With assistance from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) staff in Morocco, Brown met with several prospective buyers and distributors who expressed strong interest in U.S. beef.
“We had meetings in Casablanca and Rabat with seven different companies, and the initial reaction from the majority of the buyers is that they are very interested in U.S. beef,” Brown reported. “The outlook for U.S. beef and beef variety meat in Morocco is exciting. They are open to all products and there’s a willingness to do business there. We saw a strong level of genuine commercial interest.”
Duty-free quotas included in the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) provide U.S. beef with a significant advantage over its competitors, as Morocco’s applied, out-of-quota duty rates on imports from non-FTA suppliers are 150 to 200 percent. Most of the beef currently available in the market is produced domestically and is usually derived from young bulls that are slaughtered at 20 to 22 months of age.
This year up to 6,660 metric tons (mt) of USDA Prime and Choice beef cuts may enter Morocco at zero duty under the high-quality beef quota. Export requirements outlined in the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Export Library stipulate that “high-quality beef can only be imported into Morocco by, or sold to, four and five-star hotels (including luxury hotels) and classified restaurants.” All beef products – either in-quota or otherwise – must be halal-certified.
“The Prime cuts will definitely appeal to Morocco’s high-end hotel and restaurant sector,” Brown said. “We probably will be able to do a lot more volume with Choice cuts because of the price differential they will offer. We know that Choice beef offers a superb eating experience and we expect strong interest once it is introduced to more consumers in Morocco.”
The high-quality beef quota includes a short shelf-life requirement for chilled beef – 12 days from the date of slaughter – so the products most likely to be imported under the quota are frozen, portion-control steaks. However, USMEF is working with FAS to resolve the shelf-life issue in order to make chilled U.S. beef a more viable option for Moroccan buyers.
The FTA also includes a quota for other U.S. beef cuts and beef variety meat, with 2,390 mt available in 2019. Variety meat items that could gain traction in the Moroccan market include tongues, tripe and kidneys, but Brown expects buyer interest to be strongest for U.S. livers. There is also a separate duty-free quota for ground beef patties.
“One of the restaurant suppliers we met with on this visit is very interested in U.S. ground beef patties,” Brown said. “The company is certain it can develop the market for burger sales now that they have access to a higher-quality product.”
Brown explained that under the FTA, all duties on U.S. beef will be phased to zero by 2023. But in the meantime, the duty-free quotas provide ample capacity for getting U.S. beef established in the market. Brown anticipates that Morocco will quickly become one of the top African destinations for U.S. beef.
“U.S. beef’s presence in Africa is growing, especially in markets such as South Africa, Angola and Gabon,” he said. “But so far those markets lean rather heavily toward variety meat, especially beef livers. I feel Morocco offers strong potential for a more diverse range of products, and I like to think that in 12 months’ time people will be surprised by the amount of beef business U.S. exporters are doing in Morocco.”