Brazil fears 'halal-backlash' by Arab nations with Jerusalem embassy move

Powerful domestic meat lobby groups and producers have warned, however, that the lucrative halal export market could be threatened by Bolsonaro's expected embassy move.

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January 20, 2019 12:34
2 minute read.
Zebu cattle are seen in a farm in Paulinia, Brazil July 1, 2017

Zebu cattle are seen in a farm in Paulinia, Brazil July 1, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/PAULO WHITAKER)

 
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Brazil will remain the global "powerhouse of halal" exports should newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro transfer his country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Brazilian agriculture minister has said amid fears of a commercial backlash by Arab nations.

"Muslim markets are important and we need to open more of those in Asia, where there are several countries in which we are interested, Indonesia being one of them — they have 200 million people," Tereza Cristina Corrêa told the Financial Times in an interview published Sunday. "Brazil cannot fight with anyone. We are friendly."

Brazil, the world's leading exporter of halal products, saw food-related trade with Arab nations increase by approximately 10% to an estimated $5 billion in 2018 despite a year defined by a major food safety scandal and a truckers' strike, according to meat certification company FAMBRAS Halal.

Powerful domestic meat lobby groups and producers have warned, however, that the lucrative halal export market could be threatened by Bolsonaro's expected embassy move.

Voicing growing industry fear that Brazilian exports could be targeted by a commercial boycott, chairman of food processing giant BRF S.A. Pedro Parente told reporters in November 2018 that the embassy move was "cause for concern."

"We have a very important trade with Arab and halal markets," said Parente, according to Reuters. "We are confident that when a discussion of the matter involves the relevant areas — the farm, trade and foreign ministries — they will certainly reach the best solution."

Last month, Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned Brazil's foreign ministry that "the intention of moving the embassy to Jerusalem could harm" relations between Brasilia and the Arab world.

Corrêa, considered one of the more pragmatic politicians in Bolsonaro's new cabinet, said she recognized the government's inclination regarding the embassy move but would "sit down and talk with the government about it... I think that things are adjusting, we know the preferences of this government, but one thing is practice [the other is rhetoric.]”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who traveled last month to Brazil to attend the inauguration of Bolsonaro, told representatives of the country's 120,000-strong Jewish community that the embassy move to Jerusalem was only a matter of time.

Netanyahu quoted Bolsonaro as telling him, “‘I will move the embassy to Jerusalem. It’s not a question of if, just a question of when.’ President Trump said the same thing. He moved the embassy. And President Bolsonaro will move the embassy as well.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this story.

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