CHICAGO Fresh beef from Brazil and Argentina will be allowed into the United States under amended regulations that specify conditions to mitigate risk of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said on Monday.
"This is the first step of a process for these regions to gain access to the U.S. market for beef," said APHIS.
Brazil and Argentina also need to meet food safety standards before being able to export any beef to the United States.
APHIS risk assessments indicate that fresh (chilled or frozen) beef can be safely imported, provided certain conditions are met to ensure beef exported to the United States will not harbor the FMD virus.
USDA will assess their equivalence with U.S. standards through a review of their regulatory programs as well as an in-country audit of their food safety systems. These rules take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The U.S. National Cattlemen's Beef Association said it opposed the deal, warning the health of the U.S. cattle herd could be jeopardized.
A Brazilian official said there are two key steps still to be taken before Brazilian beef processors can start sales to the United States and vice versa.
"Both the U.S. and Brazil need to sign the bilateral sanitary certificate, which will probably happen next week," Brazil's secretary of international relations at the agriculture ministry, Tatiana Palermo, said.
She said once the certificate is signed, both countries will organize inspections to plants to check compliance with the certificate's requirements. Then, the plants can gain licenses to start negotiating export deals.
In 2014, Brazil exported about 37,000 tonnes of processed beef to the United States valued at $217 million, USDA data showed.
Brazil's total beef exports were 1.56 million tonnes worth $7.2 billion. Its top buyers were Hong Kong, Russia and the European Union, according to beef export association Abiec.
In five years, Brazil could export 100,000 tonnes of fresh beef to the United States annually, the country's agriculture ministry estimated in a statement.
(Reporting By Theopolis Waters in Chicago, additional reporting by Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo; Editing by David Gregorio)