With stakes high, Brazil meat industry dominates Lula delegation to China

March 22, 2023 04:45 PM -03 | By Reuters
Image source: Reuters

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ana Mano

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - More than a quarter of business leaders traveling to China with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva next week come from Brazil's booming meat industry, highlighting the high stakes for a sector reliant on Chinese demand for most of its exports.

With 69 of the nearly 250 executives traveling, meatpackers dominate a roster including wood pulp producers, a soy crushers group and executives from the mining, construction and financial services industry, according to a preliminary government list of the business delegations seen by Reuters.

JBS SA, the world's largest meat company which sent about 26% of its global exports to China last year, will have around 10 representatives in the delegation, including three from the Batista family that controls the business.

BRF SA, the world's biggest chicken exporter, aims to send five executives, including Chairman Marcos Molina, founder of Marfrig Global Foods SA, which holds a controlling stake in BRF.

Other names on the government list, dated March 18, include CEOs of iron ore miner Vale SA, planemaker Embraer SA, pulp producer Suzano SA and engineering group Novonor, formerly Odebrecht.

Lula departs for China this weekend, but many executives and lobby groups have traveled ahead of the president, government officials said.

JBS representatives said the company aims to bolster commercial ties with China, a key trading partner. Marfrig declined to comment. BRF, Vale, Suzano and Novonor did not respond to requests for comment.

Embraer said it was optimistic about Sino-Brazil strategic partnerships and prospects for more trade in high-value aerospace products.

J&F, the Batista family investment firm that owns JBS and has interests in pulp production and energy, declined to comment on expectations for the trip. A person close to the firm said China is J&F's largest market.


ABPA, Brazil's association of pork and poultry processors, is sending at least three representatives. In a statement, ABPA said they are seeking recognition from Beijing that Rio Grande do Sul and Parana are free of foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination, in order to export pork with bones and pork offal.

ABPA is also pushing for export permits for more factories.

China buys 44% of Brazil's pork exports by volume and around 14% of its chicken exports, according to ABPA data for the first two months of 2023.

Two major beef industry groups, Abiec and Abrafrigo, are sending representatives, hoping they can convince China to lift a beef export ban enforced on Feb. 23 after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Brazil.

Neither association replied to a request for comment.

"Tomorrow marks one month since the embargo," said João Figueiredo, an analyst at Datagro Pecuaria. "The expectation is positive for the reopening to take place in the next few days, and potentially during the (presidential) mission."

According to a Brazilian government source, China already has all the information needed about the mad cow case.

Brazil also aims to renegotiate sanitary protocols under which a single mad cow case triggers an export ban for the whole country. Beef producers in Brazil lose up to $25 million per day with the embargo in place.

Some 62% of Brazil's beef exports went to China last year.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ana Mano; Editing by Brad Haynes, Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

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