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Countries Put Restrictions on Brazil After Covid-19 Found in Frozen Chicken- Brazil To Take Cases to WTO

After the Chinese government reported that frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive for Covid-19 last Thursday, other countries have imposed restrictions on purchases from Brazil. First, the Philippines announced the temporary suspension of chicken meat imports from Brazil. And earlier this week, the Hong Kong government decided to suspend chicken imports from the Brazilian meatpacker responsible for the supposedly contaminated product.

Allegedly, the contaminated Brazilian chicken came from the Aurora meatpacking plant in the city of Xaxim, located in the Santa Catarina state of southern Brazil. According to Chinese authorities, people who had contact with the contaminated products were examined, and tested negative for the disease. In addition to Brazilian chicken, China also registered Covid-19 in samples of frozen shrimp packaging from Ecuador.

An Estadão article noted that the discovery was made after a small sample of the surface was removed from the lot and tested by local disease control centers in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

On the same day, Reuters writer Stephanie Nebehay reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) minimized the risk of the coronavirus being transmitted through food packaging, and asked people not to be afraid that the virus would enter the food chain:

“People should not be afraid of food, food packaging or food delivery,” said WHO emergency program chief Mike Ryan at a news conference.

In a notice, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture reiterated that there is no scientific evidence of the transmission of Covid-19 through meat or frozen food packaging. The government also guaranteed the safety of Brazilian products “since they obey strict protocols to guarantee public health.”

Globo Rural journalist Fernando Barbosa indicated that the Secretariat of Agriculture of Santa Catarina declared in a note, that the productive sector of State follows strict control protocols. The Secretariat also highlighted the fact that Santa Catarina is the second largest producer of chicken meat in Brazil with access to more than 130 international markets, among them “countries considered the most demanding in the world.”

Even with the defense, Hong Kong decided on Monday to suspend purchases from the Aurora meatpacker. The country’s health authorities carried out a preliminary investigation and reported that no trace of Covid-19 was found in Brazilian chicken cargoes, according Globo Rural writer Fernando Barbosa. The article also stated that the Brazilian Animal Protein Association (ABPA) criticized Hong Kong’s decision, and said it will take the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The same should happen with the Philippines. Valor Econônico journalist Rafael Walendorff reported that the Brazilian government will appeal the Philippines’ decision to suspend imports of chicken meat from Brazil to the WTO.  The article noted that in the government’s opinion, the measure is protectionist since there is no confirmation of contamination in the packaging of the product exported to China, and the Chinese have so far, not blocked purchases.

Canal Rural analyst Miguel Daoud noted that the pandemic may be being used by these countries as a strategy to force a price drop on products:

“China has serious problems with food production, such as drought and swine fever. This justifies the demand for food at a time when the world is in a recession, driving up prices and worries in those countries that are taking advantage of the pandemic issue to try to lower prices,” he said.

In an interview to Canal Rural, the minister-adviser of the Chinese Embassy in Brazil, Qu Yuhui, stated that the case is being investigated and that it should not impact trade between countries:

“We don’t need to exaggerate this issue and the Chinese side will still try to find out where the problem was, whether it was in transport or in other segments. It will not have a big impact on our trade.”

On Sunday, Financial Times writer Christian Shepherd and Qianer Liu reported that the capital of southern China’s Guangdong province has suspended imports of frozen meat, fish and seafood from countries affected by the coronavirus. Guangzhou authorities announced a temporary ban on hotspots without naming specific countries and ordered that all workers who came into contact with frozen products do Covid-19 tests.

After the case of Covid-19 in Brazilian chicken, meatpackers in three countries suspended sales to China on Monday. According to the General Customs Administration of China (GACC), the sites are a storage facility in New Zealand, and two pork industries in the United Kingdom and Canada. Valor Econômico writer Luiz Henrique Mendes stated that several countries have been suspending meat exports from industries with outbreaks of Covid-19 among employees, in response to a request from Chinese authorities.

Joana Colussi is a journalist and visiting researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Previously, she has reported on various agribusiness and economics topics for prominent Brazilian media publications, such as Grupo Globo affiliates. Joana holds a Master’s degree in Agribusiness, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Management at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS-Brazil).

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