U.S. opens up to Brazil fresh beef imports

A worker arranges slaughtered cattle in the freezing room in the Marfrig Group slaughter house in Promissao, 500 km northwest of Sao Paulo October 7, 2011. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The U.S. and Brazilian governments exchanged food safety equivalence documents on Monday that will open up their respective markets to fresh beef exports, a window expected to boost Brazil’s exports to the United States by $900 million.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said its Food Safety and Inspection Service had determined that Brazil’s food safety system for meat was up to U.S. standards and that fresh (chilled and frozen) Brazilian beef can be safely imported.

This means that Brazil, the world’s largest beef exporter, will now be able to send raw beef to the United States from every part of the country, not just the southern state of Santa Catarina, which already could due to its sanitary track record.

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who was in Washington last week to nail down the agreement, said the U.S. food safety seal of approval will now open other markets to Brazilian beef.

Maggi said exports could begin in 90 days once paperwork was completed. He said an initial quota of 60,000 tons of Brazilian beef should enter the United States this year.

A green light for fresh beef shipments to the United States could help Brazil gain access to other key markets, such as Japan and South Korea, which have banned all beef imports since a mad cow disease scare in late 2012.

The World Animal Health Organization has maintained Brazil’s status as a country with an insignificant risk of the disease. Brazil is already a steady exporter of cooked beef that appears in items such as canned corned beef in the United States.

The agreement, which took years to negotiate, has long been awaited by Brazil's JBS S.A. JBSS3.SA, Latin America's largest meat producer that in 2007 purchased Swift Foods Co, the third-largest U.S. processor of beef and pork.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler