Brazil beef exports seen returning to normal after scandal

A man inspects pieces of beef at a butchery after the Chilean government suspended all meat and poultry imports from Brazil, in Santiago, Chile March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s beef exports should return to normal levels between April and May as the country’s efforts to reverse import bans have started to bear fruit in the wake of a food safety scandal that surfaced last month, industry group Abrafrigo said on Friday.

In March, Brazil exported 124,880 tonnes of fresh and processed beef products, an 8 percent drop from the same month a year ago. These exports generated $489 million in revenue, a 3 percent drop, Abrafrigo said after compiling government data released earlier this week.

“As Brazil’s main clients resume purchases from Brazil, shipments will return to levels close to normality between April and May,” the statement said.

Last month, a bribery investigation of health inspectors implicated meatpackers including BRF SA and JBS SA, prompting foreign markets including China and Hong Kong to ban Brazil’s meat products temporarily.

Police have accused more than 100 people, mostly inspectors, of taking bribes in exchange for allowing the sale of rancid products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants.

Despite last month’s temporary ban, China remained Brazil’s largest beef importer as it continued to step up direct purchases of the country’s meat products in lieu of buying through Hong Kong-based intermediaries, Abrafrigo said.

China increased its volume of beef imports from Brazil by 48 percent to 52,855 tonnes in the first three months of 2017, but Hong Kong’s imports fell nearly 24 percent in the period, Abrafrigo said.

Total beef exports in the quarter generated $1.3 billion in sales, a 3 percent drop, Abrafrigo said.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Leslie Adler