Brazilian chicken flies past US

There are some things that will always be linked with Brazil: soccer, sand, and samba, to name a few. Now there is a new - and unlikely - name bidding for a place on the list: chicken.

Buoyed by fresh opportunities in the Middle East and Asia, Brazilian poultry farmers have sharply increased production and are expected to overtake the United States and end the year as the world's No. 1 chicken exporter.

Already the world's largest exporter of beef and soy beans, Brazil's emergence as a poultry powerhouse is a sign of the country's growing importance in the world of agriculture. Its modern and economical production process, coupled with savvy trade deals with other developing nations, is likely to have Brazil's competitors squawking for years to come.

In 1997, Brazil's chicken exports were less than a third those of the US. But production has taken off since 2000 - growth averaged 20 percent the past two years - and today Brazil exports to 127 different countries and controls 36 percent of the world share, according to Claudio Martinez, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Chicken Exporters.

The main markets are in the Middle East and Asia, particularly China. With talks of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas and a deal with the European Union breaking down, Brazil has forged closer trade ties with behemoths in the developing world. President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva has aggressively pursued better relations with countries like China, Russia, and India.

The Chinese in particular are keen to strengthen trade relations with Latin America. Chinese Premier Hu Jintao last month promised to invest more than $100 billion in the region over the next 10 years. Brazilian chicken exporters would benefit through a deal government officials said will be worth $200 million a year by 2005. The agreement will help boost Brazilian exports to a region already feasting on Brazilian drumsticks. When Asian producers were laid low by Avian influenza earlier this year, their Brazilians competitors moved in, and exports to Asia went up 84 percent between January and October.

There are other, more established reasons for the rise, Mr. Martinez adds. Brazil's industry is relatively new and therefore modern. Production costs are up to 25 percent lower than in the US. And sanitary controls have helped keep the country's birds free of pests.

American officials say Brazil cannot guarantee their birds are disease free and so are banned from the US. Brazil strenuously rejects that claim and banned US imports in retaliation. Brazilian officials say they hope that, as the two biggest exporters, they can set an example and overcome the stalemate. The planned creation of a world poultry exporters organization would help producers resolve conflicts, Martinez says.

If it does, Americans might recognize there is more to Brazil than Portuguese and Pele. Now there's poultry, too.

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