The unprecedented rise comes ahead of an upcoming EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which may increase imports further once it is finalised.
"In 2012, Vietnam imported 1 million kilograms (kg) of meat products from the EU and the amount shot up to 71 million kg in 2014," said a spokesperson from the Union of Producers and Employers of the Meat Industry (UPEMI), in Poland.
Vietnam’s pork imports from the EU alone stood at €99.3 million (US$113.6m) in 2012, which rose to €607.4m (US$695.2m) in 2014. Beef exports rose from €51.2m (US$58.6m) to €539.4m (US$617.2m) during the same period, according to UPEMI statistics. Poland, which has a strong pigmeat sector, recently sent officials to Vietnam to promote its pigmeat exports.
According to VIETRADE, the government-run Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, the EU-Vietnam FTA, due to be signed later this year, could boost EU-Vietnam bilateral trade of all kinds by 10%-15% this year, and by 20% in three to four years, it said in a note. The deal could also underpin a future EU-ASEAN FTA, and it could provide a fresh impetus for talks on signing the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which removes trade barriers between Vietnam to the USA, said VIETRADE.
Looking ahead, Vietnam’s 89 million people make a "promising market", especially for EU beef exporters, compared to pork, because more pigs are raised locally than cows, according to Dr Nhu Van Thu, vice-head of the science management and international cooperation division of Vietnam’s National Institute of Animal Sciences. "The number of pigs in the country is 26.4 million as opposed to 2.5 million buffalos and 5.2 million cattle, according to 2015 figures," he said. "The ratio of red meat in the diet is still very low in Vietnam and the demand and potential for red meat consumption in Vietnam is huge."
But how will the local meat industry cope with competition from imports? Dr Thu said: "[With Vietnam being] a big market with high demand, the imported meat will cater to the rich and the local beef [will be produced] for lower-income consumers."
Most locally-produced beef is reared with few inputs and via extensive farming. That said, imports could depress local farmers’ incomes, but Dr Thu is confident the "local beef industry will find its own market".
One advantage for local beef farmers is their produce is fresh not frozen, he said, adding: "Some Vietnamese prefer fresh chicken, which is three-to-four times more expensive than frozen chicken."
Meanwhile, the UPEMI spokesperson stressed that EU quality would always win it sales: "Traditional production methods of cold meats guarantee their unique taste and aroma." She added there was "no residues of antibiotics and growth hormones in the meat, due to the very restrictive EU rules in this area".