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President Lula tells Japan’s Kishida to try Brazilian beef in bid to score export orders

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Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday welcomed Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on his first visit to the country, with the two meeting in the capital of Brasilia and the South American leader pushing his counterpart to buy his country’s beef.

Brazil had wished to seize on the bilateral meeting to push forward an agreement to open Japanese markets to Brazilian beef, a goal the Latin American country has pursued since 2005. In an appeal to the prime minister, Lula insisted he should eat at a steakhouse during his trip.

“I don’t know what you had for dinner last night,” Lula said during the press conference, looking at Kishida and the Japanese delegation, then turning his attention to Vice-President Geraldo Alckmin, who is also Minister of Industry, Commerce, Development and Trade. “Please, take Prime Minister Fumio to eat steak at the best restaurant in Sao Paulo so that, the following week, he starts importing our beef.”

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Under Lula, Brazil has boosted efforts to export beef to international markets. Since the beginning of 2023 when Lula took office, 50 countries have lifted restrictions, mostly in Asia. According to Brazilian officials, about 70 per cent of the beef consumed in Japan is imported, while 80 per cent of the imports come from the US and Australia.

“Our meat is cheaper and of better quality than the meat you buy. I don’t even know the price, but I’m sure ours is cheaper, and of extreme quality,” Lula added.

Brazil exported more than 2 million pounds of beef in 2023, barely breaking the record set the prior year, according to official trade data. The nation is the world’s largest beef exporter, shipping to over 90 countries.

The sanitary conditions of the cattle industry are now “much better than in 2005, particularly regarding recognition of areas free from foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination,” Eduardo Paes Saboia, the secretary for Asia and Pacific at Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry, told reporters in Brasilia.

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The cattle industry is also a major driver of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah region. Japan and Brazil agreed to Japanese support for restoration initiatives of the Cerrado’s degraded areas. Additional cooperation agreements pertained to cooperation in cybersecurity and investment promotion, among other areas.

“There is great potential in bilateral cooperation to address global challenges,” Kishida said at a press conference after their bilateral meeting.

He added that he expected to enhance Japanese and Brazilian cooperation in environmental protection measures, climate change and sustainable development, mentioning his country’s recent US$3 million contribution to the Brazilian government’s fund to protect the Amazon rainforest. He also noted that 150 Japanese executives had joined him on the trip.

Kishida (right) is received by the honour guard at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia. Photo: AFP

Kishida’s first words to Lula, according to the Brazilian president, were to express solidarity with the victims of the floods in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul that have killed 39 people as of Friday morning, with dozens more still missing.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest Japanese community outside Japan, with over 2.7 million Japanese citizens and their descendants. The first ships from the Asian country arrived to Brazil in 1908, and immigration peaked between World War I and II.

Prime Minister Kishida will travel to Asuncion, Paraguay in the afternoon to attend a business summit, meet the Japanese community and have dinner with President Santiago Peña. On Saturday morning, he is expected to fly back to Brazil to meet the Japanese community in Sao Paulo, deliver a speech at the University of Sao Paulo and attend a business meeting.

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