A controversial proposal to allow Brazilian beef into the US would have limited impact on world market dynamics – but that would not be the case if China and Saudi Arabia followed suit.
A plan by the US, unveiled last week, to allow Brazilian beef exports into the US appears unlikely to spur huge volumes given that they will still be subject to quota limits.
Indeed, Brazil will have to compete for part of the 64,805-tonne quota allocated to "other countries", compared with the 213,000 tonnes allowed to New Zealand exports and 408,000 tonnes for Australian supplies.
"Outside of the in-quota rate, Brazil won't be competitive on price in the US, leaving limited scope for Brazil to place significant volumes into the US in 2014 even if imports are permitted," said Paul Deane, senior ag economist at Australia & New Zealand Bank.
Paragon Economics and Steiner Consulting said in a report: "The immediate impact of Brazilian beef in the US beef supply picture could be very limited".
The impact on world beef trade dynamics, in particular for Australia, would be far greater if China and Saudi Arabia reopened to Brazilian beef, having introduced bans in 2012 following a reported case of mad cow disease, or BSE, in the state of Parana.
The curbs spurred a surge of more than four-times, to 155,000 tonnes, in Australian beef exports to China in 2013, with shipments to Saudi Arabia jumping above 30,000 tonnes for the first time.
Brazil has a "strong ability" to supply these markets, given that its output is expected to hit a record 10m tonnes this year, against a difficult background for domestic consumption, softened by weak economic growth and consumer confidence.
Overall, "Brazil's beef market access is critical in 2014," Mr Deane said, forecasting a rise of 400,000 tonnes, or 17%, in total beef exports from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay this year.
While Brazilian cattle prices, in local terms, averaged R$108 per head in the last three months of 2013 according to Rabobank, up 13% year on year and up 5% quarter on quarter, the impact on exports has been reduced by a weakening real.
"Fresh beef export prices in November averaged $4,656, the highest level of 2013 but still below 2012 levels," Rabobank said.
US farmers have cited fears of importing foot-and-mouth disease as a core concern over the potential opening up to Brazilian imports, a proposal which Beef Magazine termed "very scary".
Paragon Economics and Steiner Consulting said: "Foot-and-mouth disease has no impact on human health but it is a scourge for the cattle industry," in prompting herd losses and trade bans.
US officials say that "fresh beef can be safely imported" from approved Brazilian states "provided certain conditions are met".