U.S. says no timeline to restore Brazil beef imports

(Reuters) - Brazil needs to make progress on inspections before any timeline can be set to end a U.S. ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef, the U.S. agriculture secretary said on Monday.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and his Brazilian counterpart Blairo Maggi met in Washington, D.C., on Monday to discuss the ban that went into effect on June 22. The United States has said a high percentage of beef shipments from Brazil did not pass safety checks.

In June, the United States blocked shipments of fresh Brazilian beef and said it had found abscesses in the meat and signs of systemic failure of inspections in meat from the world’s largest beef exporter.

In March, some Brazilian meatpackers were hit with a scandal involving alleged bribery of health officials, which briefly shut Brazil’s protein exports out of major global markets from China to Europe.

Brazilian cattle ranchers have said they believe the abscesses were linked to foot-and-mouth vaccines used in Brazil, the only country where foot-and-mouth disease can be found in cattle that can sell to the United States because it uses vaccinations.

After the meeting, Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry released a recording of Maggi’s remarks in which he said the United States could lift a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef in 30 to 60 days but the final decision would be made after analysis of information presented by Brazil.

Perdue said in a statement that Maggi had pressed for a timeline for restoring imports of fresh Brazilian beef to the United States, but he said any timeline would depend upon progress being made by Brazil.

Brazil had been selling fresh beef to the United States since July 2016 when the countries signed an agreement ending 17 years of talks about such imports.

Fresh beef shipments to the United States represent 3 percent of Brazil’s beef exports and were worth $58.1 million from January to June.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington, Ana Mano in Sao Paulo and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Jonathan Oatis