By Ian Ashbridge BRITISH BEEF farmers should not fear imports of South American beef provided they can maintain profitable production, says the National Beef Association.

NBA chairman Robert Robinson said UK producers should not be distracted from CAP reform challenges by thinking a deluge of imports was inevitable.

“A surprisingly large number of the UK”s beef farmers are allowing myth and misinformation to undermine their resolve,” he said.

South American beef was not attractive to retailers – Brazil had no plans to brand exports, had a high proportion of tough-to-eat cattle breeds and lacked traceability. It also sold surplus beef in response to short-term price fluctuations.

But a drop in UK supply could force processors and retailers to look overseas at prices that allow tariffs to be topped, he added.

“The answer to this lies in the hands of the UK farmer himself and it would be wrong of him to assume Brazil had plans to invade the UK market. Its government is focused on coping with domestic demand when its economy stabilises.

” EU tariffs restricted beef imports to about 400,000t a year, compared with EU consumption of around 9m tonnes, said Mr Robinson. Those tariffs would be contested at World Trade Organisation talks, but it was likely they would be relaxed only gradually, he added.

“The EU Commission is determined that imports are backed by welfare, environmental and social production standards that match our own,” he added.

NFU chief livestock adviser Kevin Pearce said: “I agree completely. South American countries have real issues about getting large volumes of beef here, such as transport, quality and shelf-life.

” More enticing markets for South American beef exporters lay closer to their ports, said Mr Pearce.

Beef consumption in south-east Asia was growing, for example, and those buyers would not place the demands on supply that British retailers would.

“But we jeopardise our ability to supply our own markets by the fact producers still don”t have sufficient margin to produce profitably.

” Kevin Roberts, director general of the Meat and Livestock Commission, said WTO negotiations should consider not just trade liberalisation, but standards demanded by consumers.

He said import tariffs on beef should not be swept away until the standard of foreign products could be assured. “Trade liberalisation is not simply about transferring trading advantage to the world”s lowest-cost suppliers.”