Mercosur deal: Brussels pressed over Brazilian meat scandal

'The EU has some of the highest food safety and animal welfare standards in the world which imports to the bloc must meet, otherwise our safety standards will be compromised.' Copa and Cogeca © istock/RGtimeline

The EU farm lobby has stressed concerns over meat standards and safety must be given priority in discussions with the Latin American trade bloc in the wake of the corruption scandal engulfing Brazil’s meat industry.

Brussels representatives are holding a new round of negotiations this week in Buenos Aires with the countries that make up Mercosur - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - to advance a trade deal. 

Access to essential raw materials at more competitive prices

Through the removal of particularly high tariffs, as well as non-tariff barriers, Mercosur could become one of the top markets for EU dairy, wine, spirits, processed foods, chocolates, all types of pork products, and canned fruits, claims the EU Commission's DG for Trade.

The removal of export tariffs on inputs for the EU food and feed sectors is an important objective for the EU in the negotiations, said the Commission. "Access to cheaper raw materials would make EU industry more competitive, in particular as regards to meat production."

Brazil and Argentina account for a huge chunk of the 80% of plant protein imports for feed the EU is so dependent on. 

The EU-Mercosur talks are set to cover sanitary and phyto-sanitary aspects of trade along with investment, IP rights like geographical indications, government procurement, and technical barriers to trade.

On Friday, Copa and Cogeca secretary general, Pekka Pesonen, sent a letter to the Commission calling for EU safety standards to be met and for Mercosur countries to ensure individual traceability of cattle and a ban on the use of meat and bone meal in poultry production.

“These countries currently do not have the same standards as us. This was highlighted by the case in Brazil today [Friday 17 March] where over 30 top representatives in the agri-food sector were arrested for [reportedly] failing to comply with veterinary requirements in the beef sector,” he said.

Brazilian meat scandal

Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, met foreign diplomats from the EU, China, the US and elsewhere yesterday [Sunday 19 March] to allay concerns over exports following police raids on meatpackers in Brazil on Friday. The raids followed a two-year long probe.

The authorities there are investigating whether companies paid bribes to hide unhygienic conditions at meatpacking facilities, and whether they sold rotten meat and poultry.

Over 30 executives have been arrested and the government has also suspended over 30 civil servants, according to the BBC.

Three meatpacking plants have been closed and another 21 are being investigated.

Temer said the plants under scrutiny represented a tiny proportion of Brazil's meat industry. However, the world’s largest beef exporter, JBS SA, and the world’s largest poultry processor, BRF SA, were both targeted as part of the probe.

JBS said it had followed rigorous quality standards and sanitary regulations. It acknowledged that the raids had taken place, but said none of its top executives had been arrested.

BRF said it was co-operating with the investigation and denied violating regulations.

The Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC) said none of its 29 member companies' beef plants have been named in the adulterated meat products scandal.

It added that those companies follow the strictest domestic and international rules and standards for beef, whether that meat is intended for the domestic market or for export markets.  

The Brazilian meat-producing sector accounts for some $12bn in annual exports.

Reaction from Brussels

Spokesperson, Enrico Brivo, said the Commission is aware of the on-going investigations in Brazil, regarding deficiencies with meat licensing, and has been liaising with the Brazilian government in relation to the probe.

"On Friday, the Commission sent an official note to the Brazilian authorities asking for clarification and delisting of establishments involved in the investigations. Intensive diplomatic contacts took place over the week-end."

Following the reply sent by the Brazilian officials on Monday, Brussels requested further details. 

"This is a fast evolving situation. As it stands now, the Brazilian authorities have confirmed that establishments involved in the scandal have been suspended for export to the EU. Moreover, we requested details of recently certified products from implicated establishments which are currently 'en route'. As regards the meat from Brazil that is already on the EU market, no specific alerts have been issued," said Brivo.

He said the Commission is following up this very closely with EU countries and has asked them to be vigilant and to increase controls on meat – both in terms of documentary and physical checks - coming from Brazil. "This is a standard procedure in such cases," he said.

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