March 20, 2019 / 3:33 PM / a month ago

Brazil minister says U.S. 'gesture' on beef imports insufficient

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazil’s farm minister said on Wednesday that a U.S. agreement to conduct further inspections on the country’s meatpacking system is a step toward reopening the United States to fresh Brazilian beef, but is not sufficient.

FILE PHOTO: An employee works at the assembly line of jerked beef at a plant of JBS S.A, the world's largest beef producer, in Santana de Parnaiba, Brazil December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

The statements from Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias came after a visit to Washington alongside Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as the new president seeks to boost his relationship with the Trump administration. On Tuesday, Brazil announced a tariff-free quota for wheat imports and steps toward allowing U.S. pork imports.

The United States in exchange ceded little ground, agreeing to pursue further inspections of Brazil’s fresh beef producers as a “gesture” of goodwill toward reopening the beef market.

“This is really not a concession, it’s a technical issue...I do not consider it an exchange,” Dias said in an interview with Reuters in New York.

The United States halted fresh beef imports from Brazil in June 2017 after discovering issues with the meat in the wake of a scandal alleging Brazil’s meatpackers bribed inspectors for favorable results.

Dias clarified that the tarrif-free wheat quota that was agreed to during the Washington visit was for all global wheat exporters and not only the United States. The United States is seen as the major beneficiary of the quota, although Brazil has recently reopened to importing Russian wheat.

Brazil and the United States said in their joint statement that they had “agreed to science-based conditions” that could pave the way to eventually opening Brazil to U.S. pork exports.

The next step would be for Brazil to send inspectors to the United States, although no date has been set for such a trip, Dias said.

A potential trade deal between the United States and China that would boost U.S. purchases is a concern, but any agreement would need to be evaluated, Dias said.

Dias said she would travel to China, potentially in May, with her goals including strengthening relations to benefit the soy trade.

SUGAR FOR ETHANOL

U.S. officials wanted to discuss renewal of tariff-rate quota access when it expires in August, Dias said. A renewal of the tariffs of 20 percent would be a blow to the already struggling U.S. ethanol industry. Brazil is the top importer of U.S. ethanol.

That would have to be linked to boosting access to the U.S. sugar market for Brazil’s producers, which the United States does not appear ready to do, Dias said.

“That’s why we didn’t progress,” she said.

Reporting by Chris Prentice and Ayenat Mersie in New York; Additional writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Susan Thomas and Marguerita Choy

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