Employees in a butcher shop in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: AP
São Paulo - Brazil's under-fire meat industry received a major boost as China, Chile and Egypt began lifting restrictions on imports from the Latin American country.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi announced China’s “total reopening of the market for Brazilian meat” in a statement released on Saturday by the ministry’s media office. “This testifies categorically to the solidity and quality of the Brazilian sanitary system and is a victory for our exporting capacity,” he wrote.

Chile and Egypt also confirmed changes to their bans.

Operation Weak Flesh, the Brazilian police investigation into allegations that inspectors were bribed to approve the sale of tainted meat, dealt a body blow to the country’s agricultural industry. Brazil accounts for about 20percent of global beef exports and almost 40 percent of chicken exports.

Countries, including South Africa, put some kind of restriction on Brazilian meat imports in the wake of the scandal. The first available data from the Trade Ministry showed meat exports plunged 99.9percent from the daily average to $74000 (R920338) on Tuesday.

China, including Hong Kong, is the biggest export market for Brazilian meat, buying about a third of the $5.5billion of beef shipped from Latin America’s largest economy last year, according to the meat exporters’ group, Abiec.

Hong Kong’s restrictions on Brazilian meat remain in place.

Read also: World may soon be starved by dearth of chicken meat

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, China’s ban on Brazilian products will be suspended today, with the exception of meat processed in 21 plants still under investigation by Brazilian authorities.

Fifty-seven Brazilian meat-processing plants will be able to send their goods to China as they did before March 19, when Chinese customs stopped accepting all Brazilian meat imports for inspection, in accordance with a government order.

President Michel Temer welcomed China’s ruling and described it in a statement as recognition of Brazil’s agricultural-defence system. Temer said on Thursday he intended to call the Chinese premier to clarify the situation.

Chinese government officials could not be reached for comment. Zhang Lian from Yadongsheng Import-Export, who has 270 tons of frozen Brazilian beef en route to Shanghai, said he had been notified of the decision and that import-processing would resume as usual next week.

Also on Saturday, Chile’s Agriculture and Livestock Service said that it was modifying its ban on Brazilian meat imports to prohibit only those products from plants under investigation. Egypt also resumed imports from authorised slaughterhouses, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.