'Quality and safety are defining characteristics of Brazilian meat'
Brazilian pork has a comparatively short history and relatively little recognition in Korea, the world's fourth largest importer of pork. Korea opened its market to Brazilian pork in 2018 and brought in 4,964 tons from the South American country last year. Out of all of the pork that Brazil exported to other countries, this 4,964 tons amounted to only 0.5 percent of the total, so there is a big potential for growth, according to the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA), the political and institutional representative of poultry and pork producers in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Brazilian chicken products, which have been available in Korea since 2005, are in more demand here, comprising nearly 80 percent of the country's chicken imports. In 2020, Brazil exported more than 127,000 tons of chicken products to Korea.
To boost the promotion of its pork and chicken products, the ABPA has decided to be more active in Korean markets. Starting from June 29 (KST), ABPA has been running a publicity campaign in Seoul, displaying eye-catching ads to promote the quality, safety and "sustainability" of Brazilian meat products on 362 digital screens in major subway and bus stations. ABPA has run similar campaigns in other countries, including Japan and Russia, but the scale of its promotion here ― backed by the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil), the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) and the Brazilian Embassy in Seoul ― will be the largest-ever.
"The campaign is expected to reach some 2 million people at bus and subway stations every day," Brazilian Ambassador to Korea Luis Henrique Sobreira Lopes said during a recent interview with The Korea Times at the Embassy of Brazil in Jongno District in Seoul.
He also revealed that the images on the digital screens contain QR codes, through which people can get access to a wide array of Korean-language information concerning Brazilian pork and chicken.
"We decided to run this campaign in Korea this time because it all makes sense for Brazil ― the fourth largest exporter and producer of pork ― to stay connected with Korea, the fourth largest importer in the world. We also believe this is an important opportunity to further increase our chicken exports."
ABPA President Ricardo Santin told The Korea Times that the association aims to shed light on the quality, safety and "sustainability" of Brazilian meat in the campaign.
"Brazilian pork and chicken are high-quality and mouth-watering, as we only feed grain to our animals," Santin said via Zoom. "But they offer more than just taste… they are safe and sustainable as well."
Currently, all pork products exported to Korea, he said, come only from the southern state of Santa Catarina, a region recognized as free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), such that no vaccinations even were ever practiced there. FMD is a highly infectious viral illness that can cause fever and blisters on the feet and in the mouths of pigs.
Santin said two major pork-producing states ― Rio Grande do Sul and Parana ― have also earned the certification from the OIE that they are now free of FMD without vaccinations. So he hopes Korean authorities will open doors to those regions, too.
"Brazil already sent a document asking Korea to buy pork from these regions and is waiting for a response from the Korean government," the president remarked. "The two states are now in the same condition, with Santa Catarina and the OIE having both declared that they are FMD-free. If the Korean government wants to check, they can visit our country or ask us to provide whatever additional information they need."
Sobreira Lopes said, "We recently asked Korea for approvals for pork from both Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, and eventually want to include more regions."
Brazil has been a safe haven from other types of contagious diseases, like African Swine Fever (ASF) or avian influenza, Santin added.
"We know that Koreans have high sanitary standards and I can guarantee that Brazilian pork and chicken can meet their criteria," Santin said, elaborating that Brazil has rigorous biosecurity measures. For instance, people and animals outside the production system have limited access to the farms, and all vehicles and equipment from the outside need to be sanitized before being used on farms. Brazil has also come up with strict preventive actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the wake of the pandemic, we spent more than 1 billion Reais ($196 million) to protect people working inside our farms and factories," Santin noted. "We frequently checked their health conditions and made sure they were always wearing protective gear. Consequently, none of our workers tested positive for the virus and we could keep our factories running."
Such endeavors have borne fruit. According to Santin, Brazil saw an increase in pork and chicken exports following the global health crisis.
"In 2020, we had 37-percent and 0.4-percent growth in the exports of pork and chicken, respectively. During the first five months of this year, we saw an 18-percent rise in pork exports and a 4.7-percent increase for chicken. We expect to see more growth by the end of 2021," he said.
The president also accentuated the fact that Brazilian pork production is "sustainable," saying that its farms are predominantly far from the Amazon Biome.
However, there is a stumbling block on the path to boost these Brazilian exports: high tariffs on the meat. Brazilian Ambassador Luis Henrique Sobreira Lopes pointed out that Korea is now imposing a 25-percent and 20-percent tariff on Brazilian pork and chicken, respectively.
"With our partners in the Mercosur ― a South American trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay ― we have been engaging in negotiations with Korea for a free trade agreement since 2018," he noted. "We expect that the negotiation will be concluded by next year so that the tariffs could either be reduced or eliminated… Brazilian products have been thriving in Korean markets in spite of high tariffs thanks to their competitiveness, but we believe we could provide a better environment for our producers once the negotiations end successfully. We also hope the sanitary restrictions on the products of Brazil and other Mercosur countries can be overcome."
The market performance of Brazilian pork and chicken naturally leads to the question ― what about its beef products?
Korea and Brazil have been in talks over its exports for 13 years, but the negotiations have not yet come to fruition. In fact, the two countries' negotiations over the exports of pork also took more than a decade, as Korea was cautious about past foot-and-mouth disease cases in some Brazilian regions.
"My biggest dream is to organize an event promoting Brazilian beef in Korea, while I am doing my mission here," Sobreira Lopes said. "Korean consumers have not been able to take advantage of our high-quality beef, because the products have still not been approved to enter the Korean market. I am puzzled as to why."
"We have already proven that we have the highest level of sanitary controls and services, and that our production is safe and healthy. In fact, we have not had any cases of foot-and-mouth disease ― which might be a major concern for Korea ― for more than 15 years. So what is the truth behind this lengthy process of approval for a product that is being exported to most of the other countries in the world?"
The ambassador stressed that Brazilian beef, which can be characterized by its high quality and reasonable price, will not be a threat to Korean beef producers even if it enters Korea.
"Some people are concerned about the effect Brazilian beef might have on Korean producers, but it will not pose any threat because it is totally different from the meat produced in Korea. Both of them boast a very high quality, but they are produced and consumed differently. We also have 'green' beef, which is from the cows that were fed on grass… So I hope I get a chance to promote it before the end of my mission."