Namibia seeks to beef up Hong Kong's meat supply

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 10:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 4:21am

Namibia wants to export meat to Hong Kong, and it will be the first African country to do so if its application is approved.

A delegation of meat traders from the southwest African country recently met local authorities and applied to export meat to the city, Henry Chan, Namibia's honorary consul in Hong Kong, said.

The exports would be mainly beef, he said, dismissing speculation that it would be game meat such as zebra and antelope.

"Namibian cows feed on grass rather than corn. They also roam freely on ranches," Chan said, adding that the beef, with organic certifications, ranges from mid- to top-level prices.

Namibian beef is on shelves throughout Europe, but the country is now exploring new markets because of diminishing demand in the region, he said.

The Food and Environmental Services Department confirmed it had received Namibia's application. But it was understood that exporters had first to meet stringent requirements to supply beef - a restricted food product - to Hong Kong.

There are technical difficulties involved in inspecting the hygiene conditions of farms on other continents.

Experiments with the Hong Kong beef market have not all been success stories.

In 2011, supermarket chain ParknShop started selling chilled beef from northern mainland provinces, pricing it between that of fresh and frozen beef.

But the item has since disappeared from shelves after lacklustre demand. "Chilled beef is not cheap, but it tastes like frozen meat," Fresh Beef Traders Alliance convenor Hui Wai-kin said.

In the 1970s and '80s, Hong Kong imported fresh beef from Asian countries, Hui said, but the trade eventually died because of high transportation costs and fluctuating prices.

Now, the city imports fresh beef only from the mainland, and its soaring prices haunt retailers and consumers.

The wholesale price for marbled meat rose from HK$2,683 per 100 catties in 2010 to HK$4,690 this year.

As winter comes around, the retail price of Hongkongers' favourite hot-pot dish has climbed to HK$180 per catty.

Local retailers are campaigning to end supplier Ng Fung Hong's monopoly over the import of fresh beef in an attempt to lower prices of the meat.