Six weeks have now passed since Brazil suspended beef exports to China following the discovery of two cases of atypical BSE. This is the same protocol Ireland had with China, which was triggered in May 2020 following the discovery of an atypical BSE case in Ireland.

Brazil had expected that resumption would be a matter of a quick investigation and a resumption of business within a couple of weeks, as was the case on a previous occasion. In 2019, a similar process was followed with an atypical BSE discovery and exports resumed two weeks later.

This time, there is no indication when exports might resume and it has now come to the point where product in transit from Brazil to China, in anticipation of resumption, is being turned away. Prices have fallen from the equivalent of €3.50/kg three months ago to €2.75/kg today and this is a problem for Brazilian farmers in the first instance. but also potentially for the entire global beef trade.

The reality is that in the first half of 2021, China imported 431,000t of Brazilian beef, almost half of all Brazilian beef exports. If China remains closed to Brazil for a prolonged period, then an alternative market will have to be found, and after the US, the EU is the next largest import destination that Brazil has been actively exporting beef to.

It is difficult to understand why China, which is now the largest importer of beef in the world, is not more anxious to resume imports. Perhaps it is because there is a good supply of domestically-produced pigmeat this year, with a large cull of pigs after prices collapsed.