Brazil is the number one exporter of beef and poultry and the fourth greatest exporter of pork in the world, which demonstrates the country's strategic role in the international market. However, the Brazilian livestock chain is constantly subjected to requirements imposed by large importing markets, especially restrictions related to sanitary barriers, which hamper or prevent the access of Brazilian products to different markets. Such demands have been intensified after the pandemic, with the increasing concern with food quality and food safety in the international market.
In this context, on September 4, 2021, two atypical cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) – known as “mad cow disease” – were identified in Brazil. Two days after confirming the cases, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared that Brazil's BSE status would not change, as atypical cases of BSE do not pose a significant risk to the meat production chain or to public health in general. Even so, the announcement of the cases culminated in the suspension of meat shipments to China (the main international destination for Brazilian protein) and in the temporary closure of other markets.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, third and sixth main destinations for Brazilian beef, respectively, closed their markets for 10 days after the confirmation of the cases. However, it is the suspension of shipments to the Chinese market that has been the cause of great apprehension by Brazilian exporters - beef shipments to China have been suspended since September 4, with no expected resumption, despite the maintenance of the insignificant risk status for BSE in Brazil.
At the same time, the North American continent is on alert after the identification of cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the Dominican Republic in July 2021. Since 2018, the world has followed the explosion of ASF cases in China and the detection of the disease in other countries, including Europe. ASF can kill entire herds of swine because it is caused by a highly contagious virus. In response to the ASF incursion into the Dominican Republic (first outbreak in the Americas), OIE advised countries to intensify their surveillance efforts. The United States, for example, established a protection zone in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, due to their proximity to the Dominican Republic. Although both areas are not located in the contiguous territory of the United States, if ASF cases are detected, restrictions on pork exports will affect the whole country.
Although ASF is not a food safety problem, as well as atypical BSE, the reaction of the international market has always been of caution, followed by the imposition of sanctions on the affected country. The closing of the Chinese market for Brazilian beef is the greatest example of this type of measure, and may be an indication that international restrictions due to cases of animal diseases will be increasingly substantial from now on. Due to its dominant role in the world meat trade, Brazil will be even more subject to international market requirements and sanitary barriers related to animal health.
This situation is reinforced by Brazil's questioning within the scope of the Dispute Settlement System of the World Trade Organization (WTO), initiated on November 8, 2021, about the adoption of discriminatory controls for the detection of salmonella bacteria in some categories of poultry meat exported to the European Union. For the Brazilian authorities, there is no technical or scientific evidence to justify the application of stricter microbiological criteria for the detection of salmonella by the European Union - which is in disagreement with the rules of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures of the WTO, and creates unjustified sanitary barriers to international trade.
This context highlights the great challenge that Brazil will face in the coming years to keep its predominant position as meat supplier in the world market. The maintenance of disease-free status – although fundamental – is not enough to guarantee this, as demonstrated by the suspension of shipments to China. As they are non-tariff barriers, sanctions related to sanitary barriers can have different interpretations. Therefore, political negotiations for the fulfillment of sanitary requirements are also essential. Leaders that negotiate international trade agreements will have to work even closer to animal health authorities in Brazil, to guarantee access for Brazilian products not only to traditional markets, but also to the most demanding ones.
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