Growth in demand for meat products within the expanded European Union (EU) means there is more than enough room for both domestic production and higher levels of imports, said the head of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV).
Expansion of the EU to 25 member states meant consumption would increase, said Jean-Luc Mériaux, the secretary general of the UECBV, a federation of national bodies representing the primary meat processing sector.
"The 15 are selling more pork to the 10 new members states than they are buying," he said. "We don't expect an increase in beef production, but we expect an increase in consumption."
He said that World Trade Organisation talks on trade liberalisation would result in more beef, lamb and pork becoming available in Europe and that import tariff reductions would be higher than 36% for pork and beef.
Mériaux predicted a shortfall in beef next year, which would be "a clear opportunity for the 15 member states", with prices rising about 6.6% this year. He said reform of the Common Agricultural Policy would exacerbate the shortfall, despite the reintroduction of beef over 30 months old in 2006.
"There is room for your product in the European market and we need it," he told UK processors.
Europe is now a net importer of beef products and the industry sees further trade liberalisation as one of its biggest challenges. In the UK, the Meat & Livestock Commission chairman Peter Barr put current high imports of beef primarily down to exchange rates. "The downward pressure on prices and global competition will intensify," he warned.