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Can Brazilian beef put BSE behind it?

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A Brazilian trade delegation to Washington is poised to open up yet another market to the South American country's beef exports, as fears of mad cow disease recede in one of the world's biggest producers.

The US is already a major importer of prepared beef products from Brazil.

But imports of fresh beef are currently banned, a result of the discovery of a case of BSE, or mad cow disease, in the southern state of Parana in 2012 – a finding which prompted restrictions on Brazilian shipments to a number of countries including the US and China.

Brazilian producers are now hoping for an end to US restrictions on Brazilian beef when President Dilma Rousseff visits Washington this month.

Wesley Batista, the chief executive of Brazilian beef producer JBS, has said that he expects shipments of fresh beef to the US by the end of the year.

Chinese deal

The reopening of Brazilian exports to the US – which is the top beef importer, besides being a major seller itself – would represent the latest in a series of breakthroughs for the South American country's protein industry.

Brazil, has regained access to the Chinese market, as part of a $53bn investment and trade deal between the two countries.

Last month it was announced that China had lifted a ban on beef imports from Brazil, with nine plants to begin exports immediately, and a total of 26 to be exporting by next year.

At the time the decision was hailed as an "early Christmas present" by Antônio Camardelli, president of the Brazilian beef exporters' association.

"According to China, these investments diversify its suppliers and help Brazil increase market share in this important market," said the US Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.

Threat to Australia

And on Monday, Australia and New Zealand Bank noted the threat posed by Brazilian beef exporters to shipments from Australia.

"Brazil was shut out of China and Saudi Arabia late in 2012 due to a reported case of BSE, but is now regaining access," said ANZ.

"Both destinations have been important growth markets for Australian beef recently."

Australia last year came close to usurping Brazil as the second-ranked beef exporter, with elevated slaughter volumes, encouraged by dryness in eastern areas, and a weakening Australian dollar lifting volumes sold on the global market.

BSE threat

A number of key importers placed restrictions on Brazilian beef, after a handful of case of atypical BSE were identified. The first case of BSE was reported in 2012.

However, restrictions are being eased as concerns recede. The World Health Organisation considers Brazil to have an insignificant risk of the disease.

South Africa, Iran, Peru and Saudi Arabia have all lifted bans on Brazilian beef imports, although bans by major importers such as Japan and South Korea remain in place.

By William Clarke

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