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U.S. seen approving Brazil fresh beef imports

Sao Paulo | Reuters –– Brazil’s agriculture ministry said on Friday the U.S. is likely to approve imports of Brazilian fresh beef this year, after President Dilma Rousseff visits Washington in June.

Brazil, the world’s top beef exporter, is already a steady exporter of cooked beef that appears in items such as canned corned beef to the U.S.

The agriculture ministry said in an e-mailed statement that the U.S. had promised the first shipments of fresh beef could occur in August. Brazil plans to have “done its part” by the end of May or early June, the ministry said, referring to steps to provide technical data and documentation to the Americans.

Martin Secco, chief executive of beef producer Marfrig SA, said he understood technical and sanitary questions had been resolved.

“The ratification should happen when the two presidents decide to put it on the agenda, and we believe this will happen at the next meeting,” Secco said in a conference call to discuss first-quarter earnings.

President Barack Obama said last month that Rousseff would visit Washington on June 30, raising hopes of closer ties that could increase trade between the two biggest economies in the Americas.

The U.S. has not issued a final rule that would allow fresh beef imports from Brazil into the country, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said in an e-mail on Friday.

A green light for fresh beef shipments to the U.S. could help Brazil gain access to other key markets, such as Japan, China and South Korea, which have banned all beef imports since a BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) scare in late 2012.

The World Animal Health Organization (OIE) has maintained Brazil’s BSE status as a country with an insignificant risk of the disease.

At least one state, Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, has been cleared to ship fresh meat to the U.S. after its herd qualified as free of foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination. Even so, Santa Catarina does not ship fresh beef to the U.S.

In 2014, Brazil exported about 37,000 tonnes of processed beef to the U.S. valued at US$217 million, USDA data shows.

Brazil’s total beef exports were 1.56 million tonnes worth US$7.2 billion. Its top buyers were Hong Kong, Russia and the European Union, according to beef export association Abiec.

Reporting for Reuters by Caroline Stauffer and Roberto Samora in Sao Paulo. Additional reporting for Reuters by Theopolis Waters in Chicago.

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