EU expected to block Brazil chicken exports: agriculture minister

BRASÍLIA (Reuters) - The European Union is planning to block exports from nine BRF SA poultry plants to the trade bloc and may also revoke import credentials for other Brazilian chicken plants, Brazil’s agriculture minister said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi reacts during the presentation of the performance of the agribusiness sector during 2017, including the number of exports, at the Ministry of Agriculture in Brasilia, Brazil January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Minister Blairo Maggi said Brazil would launch an effort to appeal the ban before the World Trade Organization.

“This issue of a trade war, we have seen the United States with ‘America first’ but there is also ‘Europe first,’” Maggi said. “This is headed to a difficult place for everyone involved.”

Maggi said he expected the EU to issue a final list of banned plants on Wednesday that includes the BRF plants and potentially those owned by other companies, following a planned vote by the European Commission on the matter.

He said the EU was masking its commercial motives for the import ban with sanitation concerns that have no technical basis. He returned from a trade mission in Brussels last week aimed at convincing Europe not to ban Brazilian poultry products.

“We are suffering from a commercial embargo, it’s not a question of sanitation,” Maggi said at a news briefing.

Such barriers do not comply with WTO rules, and Brazil will seek to open a panel before the trade body to discuss it, the first step in its dispute resolution process, he said, adding the ministry must still discuss the move with the foreign ministry.

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The controversy over chicken exports arose after Brazilian federal police implicated BRF in a new phase of an investigation that alleged it sought to circumvent food safety standards.

However, Maggi said there was no evidence of problems with the sanitary conditions of Brazilian chicken.

BRF declined to comment.

Shares in BRF, Brazil’s largest chicken exporter, closed flat after falling nearly 4 percent.

Brazil self-imposed an suspension on BRF poultry exports to the EU 30 days ago that affected 10 of 35 BRF plants in Brazil. A story in newspaper Valor Econômico on Tuesday said a total of 15 could be impacted by a definitive embargo.

The country exported 6,400 tonnes of chicken per month to the European Union on average in 2017, trade group ABPA said. It added that it had hired a law firm to conduct technical studies on the alleged EU trade hurdles.

Brazil sold $317 million worth of fresh salted chicken to the EU last year and $118 million worth of unsalted fresh chicken, according to a presentation by the minister.

Reporting by Jake Spring; additional reporting by Ana Mano; editing by Bernadette Baum