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* Export value rises 7.3 pct in 2012; Russia top buyer
* Brazil threatening WTO action over mad cow case
SAO PAULO, Jan 11 Brazil's beef exports by value were a record $5.77 billion in 2012, up 7.3 percent from 2011, on increased demand and a favorable exchange rate, the country's main beef industry group said on Friday.
Beef shipments from the world's top exporter have not been significantly affected by bans from some minor importers, including China and South Africa, after a case of atypical mad cow disease was confirmed in the country in December.
Export volume rose to 1.13 million tonnes in 2012, up 11.88 percent from 2011, despite top buyer Russia suspending import licenses from three states, bewildering Brazilian officials who said there were no grounds for the action.
In 2012, Russia accounted for 19 percent of Brazil's beef sales. Hong Kong and the European Union were the second and third largest buyers respectively.
Though they achieved a sales record, exports missed the $6 billion mark Abiec had predicted for the year. The previous sales record was $5.4 billion in 2008.
Brazil's currency, the real, weakened 8.6 percent in 2012, making Brazil's exports less expensive on the international market and increasing volumes, Abiec said.
Brazil has embarked on a diplomatic offensive to show its beef exports are safe since the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) said a cow that died in 2010 in the state of Parana had atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the prion that causes mad cow disease.
The 13-year-old cow did not actually have the disease and the OIE says the risk of mad cow in Brazil remains low.
Brazil is considering retaliation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) if the countries do not lift the bans.
Beef exports rose to 83,700 tonnes in December compared with 82,700 in November and 63,100 a year earlier, according to trade ministry data.
"Exports should continue to increase despite the episode in Parana, the main markets are still there," said Fernando Sampaio, Abiec's director. (Reporting by Fabiola Gomes; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)