Audio: Progress for U.S. Beef Access in Saudi Arabia, but Obstacles Remain

Click to play audio file

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) recently approved a regulation increasing the shelf life for chilled beef sold in Saudi Arabia by 50 days, with the new standard being 120 days from the date of slaughter. This is a significant development for U.S. exporters, as the former, 70-day shelf life limit had been a source of frustration for several years.

Travis Arp, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) senior director of export services, explains that the 70-day shelf life was inadequate for chilled beef shipped by ocean freight, because it did not allow enough time for the product to make it through commercial channels to the end user. This meant U.S. beef either had to be shipped by air, at significantly higher cost, or had to be shipped frozen.

Arp notes that USMEF continues to work with U.S. trade officials on other market access obstacles in Saudi Arabia, where U.S. beef exports had achieved steady growth until trade was suspended in 2012 following a BSE case in California. The market reopened to U.S. beef in 2016, but under substantially stricter access terms, including halal-related cattle feeding restrictions that added significant verification and documentation costs for U.S. producers and exporters. Last year Saudi Arabia lifted the 30-month cattle age limit on imports of U.S. beef, but Arp says other market access barriers still must be addressed in order to attract more U.S. suppliers to the market and get exports back to the levels achieved prior to 2012.

In 2011, U.S. beef exports to Saudi Arabia topped 6,600 metric tons valued at nearly $32 million, while last year exports were just 1,127 metric tons valued at under $10 million. In 2019, even before COVID-19 restrictions impacted Saudi Arabia’s restaurant sector, exports had only recovered to 1,539 metric tons valued at $14.3 million.

# # #

The U.S. Meat Export Federation ( is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry. It is funded by USDA; the beef, pork, lamb, corn and soybean checkoff programs, as well as its members representing nine industry sectors: beef/veal producing & feeding, pork producing & feeding, lamb producing & feeding, packing & processing, purveying & trading, oilseeds producing, feedgrains producing, farm organizations and supply & service organizations. USMEF complies with all equal opportunity, non-discrimination and affirmative action measures applicable to it by contract, government rule or regulation or as otherwise provided by law. USMEF is an equal opportunity employer and provider.