(Adds trade data, ABPA statement, quotes)
By Ana Mano and Adriana Barrera
SAO PAULO/MEXICO CITY, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Mexico has authorized 26 Brazilian meat plants to export chicken products into the country, Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said on Monday, as the two nations seek to strengthen commercial ties amid a realignment of global trade partnerships.
The authorization, coming after a Mexican mission visited the plants in August, raised to 46 the total number of units in Brazil authorized to export chicken to Mexico.
Between January and October, Brazilian chicken exports to Mexico totaled $138 million, the Brazilian government said.
Mexico’s main chicken suppliers are the United States, Brazil and Chile, the Brazilian government said, adding that Mexico produces 3.9 million tonnes of that meat in a year but needs to import more than 640,000 tonnes to cater to domestic demand.
Overall, the United States is by far Mexico’s main chicken supplier, having sold a total of 675,653 tonnes last year, compared with 95,500 tonnes from Brazil, according to Mexican and Brazilian government data.
Still, Brazil and Mexico started to boost their chicken trade after a 300,000-tonne annual import quota system was introduced in 2013. At that point, the United States accounted for the lion’s share of the quota, or 77 percent of Mexican chicken imports, Mexican data showed.
Under the quota, Brazil overtook the United States as Mexico’s top chicken supplier by volume, starting in 2016. Last year, Brazil sold 92,143 tonnes of chicken under the quota, more than twice as much as the United States, according to Mexican data.
“The expectation is that Brazilian imports will continue to rise until the expiration of the quota system in 2019,” Carla Suarez, president of Mexican meat trade group Consejo de la Carne, told Reuters in August.
Suarez, who could not be reached for comment on Monday, noted that Brazil was the country that made the most of the opportunity to replace U.S. chicken exports in Mexico.
Brazil-based BRF SA and JBS SA are among the food processors that benefited from Mexico’s decision to approve more plants, according to trade group ABPA. Altogether 19 companies may take advantage of the measure, it said. (Reporting by José Roberto Gomes and Ana Mano in São Paulo; Adriana Barrera in Mexico City Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)